One in three Sunderland children living in poverty - report reveals 'barbaric' situation and 'heartbreaking' plight

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
'We need to give people in the city dignity'

One in three children in Sunderland are living in poverty - a situation described as 'barbaric' and 'heartbreaking' by some of the city’s leading political figures.

The worrying figures were detailed in a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, revealing 35% of children in Sunderland and across the North East in general are classed as living in poverty, up from 27% in 2015, and significantly higher than the national average of 29%.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The region’s overall poverty rate also makes stark reading, with figures showing  25% (700,000 people) identified as living in poverty compared to 22% nationally.

A new report shows that more than one in three children in Sunderland are living in poverty.A new report shows that more than one in three children in Sunderland are living in poverty.
A new report shows that more than one in three children in Sunderland are living in poverty.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent national charity with a mission “to support and speed up the transition to a more equitable and just future, free from poverty”. 

Responding to the figures Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for Children and Young People, Cllr Linda Williams said: “To think if you have a classroom of 30 children in front of you and one in three is living in poverty is awful, it’s barbaric.

“It’s just not right and the Government needs to recognise this and do more to support people to gain skilled jobs with a secure future and earning a good wage.

“We need to give people in the city dignity.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s a sentiment shared by Interim Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Michele Deans, who said: “It’s wholly unacceptable that one in four of all people in the North East are living below the poverty line, and yet this has become an entrenched part of life in our region.

‘We cannot and must not accept this level of hardship and inequality – not least when we know we have the powers and resources to do something about it, in what remains one of the largest economies in the world.

“It's way beyond time for all political parties to commit to ensuring every person in our country has the right to live with dignity and can – at the very least – afford life’s essentials."

Despite the Government’s levelling up agenda, including appointing Michael Gove as levelling up minister and creating a whole new dedicated Government department, the figures published show a very definite North South divide.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The data, which is calculated using the Department for Work and Pensions household incomes, shows the North West has a child poverty rate of 34% with Yorkshire and the Humber at 31%.

This compares to 24%, 25% and 27% for the East, South East and South West of England.

Looking to explain the disparity, Cllr Williams said: “The North East has above average levels of unemployment and a lack of better paid skilled jobs.

“We also have a higher proportion of families with more than two children who don’t receive child benefit for these additional children.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Child benefit is currently only for the first two children. This is a ruling which was changed and this needs to be addressed by the Government as it’s not right for these children to be punished.”

Cllr Linda WilliamsCllr Linda Williams
Cllr Linda Williams | Frank Reid

Cllr Williams fears the situation is only going to get worse as Council funding from central government continues to be squeezed.

She added: “From October 2021 up to March 2024 the Council will have spent £13.4m on household support, helping 50,000 vulnerable households across the city.

“This has included Council Tax support, providing meat and vegetables to support the city’s food banks and providing food vouchers for families with children eligible for free school meals.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“However, since the onset of  austerity, we've lost over half of our budget and we are simply not going to be able to continue doing this.

“The Government will point to additional funding but don’t then factor in where budgets have been cut elsewhere.”

The findings of the report have also been slammed by Sunderland Central MP, Julie Elliott, and Washington and Sunderland West MP, Sharon Hodgson, who've called for a General Election.

Julie ElliottJulie Elliott
Julie Elliott | NW

Mrs Elliott said: “Fourteen years of Conservative Government has let the country down and nothing should shame the Conservatives more than the fact 1 in 3 children in Sunderland are classed as growing up in poverty. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This is children in Sunderland growing up without the security and opportunity they deserve.

"We need a General Election sooner rather than later. The last Labour Government reduced Child Poverty by a million, and it's clear the country needs a Labour Government again."

Mrs Hodgson said: “This report makes for heartbreaking reading, but the importance of a report like this cannot be understated. Poverty is so often a silent killer, something that families suffer under alone because of the nature of poverty is suffocating and incredibly isolating. 

“This reality is a damning indictment of the serious policy failures from fourteen years of managed decline under Conservative rule.  

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Labour will tackle the economic insecurity, the cost of living crisis, and roller coaster of inflation rates that stretch a family’s finances thinner and thinner and entrench financial hardship deeper and deeper. 

“It’s completely unjust that those who suffer most from this government's fourteen years of failure are the children who were born into it. We need a complete paradigm shift; We need a Labour government."

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.

Mrs Hodgson pledged a Labour government would implement a free breakfast club in every primary school and a mental health professional in every school.

The Foundation's flagship UK Poverty report shows that nationally six million of the poorest people – those living in very deep poverty – would need on average to more than double their income to move out of poverty. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The report findings state the average person in poverty has "an income 29% below the poverty line, with the gap up from 23% in the mid-1990s".

The average income of people in very deep poverty "is 59% below the poverty line".

Paul Kissack, Group Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It has been almost 20 years and six Prime Ministers since the last prolonged period of falling poverty in the UK. Instead, over the last two decades, we've seen poverty deepen, with more and more families falling further and further below the poverty line.

 “2024 will be a year of choices, and any political party wishing to form a new Government must set out a practical and ambitious plan to turn back the tide on poverty in the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"That plan – to ensure the dignity and respect of every member of our society – will be essential for achieving any broader ambitions for the country."

Responding to the situation, a Government spokesperson highlighted that Sunderland has been allocated "over £135 million in levelling up funds to date" and will will benefit from the devolution deal for the North East, which "includes £1.4 billion in investment over the next 30 years".

The spokesperson added: “We are continuing to support families with the cost of living backed by £104 billion, and there are 1.7 million fewer people living in absolute poverty, including 400,000 children, compared to 2010.

“Children are five times less likely to experience poverty living in a household where all adults work, compared to those in work-less households.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"That’s why we are investing billions breaking down barriers to work and supporting over one million low-income earners through our In Work Progression offer – all while cutting taxes and curbing inflation so hard-working people have more money in their pocket.”   

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.