'While we’re talking about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we’ve got kids in this county going to school hungry' - council chief's warning over plight of the poorest

Too much time is given to dissecting the latest drama in the Royal Family compared to efforts to tackle child poverty, a county leader has said.

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 3:45 pm
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

The latest figures have shown a youngster born in the most deprived parts of County Durham can expect to live up eight years less than someone born in the most prosperous areas.

More than 13,000 of the county’s school pupils are eligible for free school meals, which prompted almost 77,000 snacks to be handed out during the 2018 summer holidays in an attempt to feed those who might otherwise be forced to go without.

“While we’re talking about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we’ve got kids in this county going to school hungry or without proper shoes,” said Blackhall councillor Rob Crute.

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“I don’t know how we track the progress of this and prove we are tackling these things.”

Coun Crute was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Children and Young People's Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

More than a fifth of the county’s under-16s come from low-income families, with half of all County Durham’s youngsters living in a third of its communities considered the most deprived - also home to the most children in care.

According to council data, the Woodhouse Close area of Bishop Auckland is the most deprived part of the county, followed by Easington Colliery North and Horden Central .

Government figures suggest as many as 3.7 million children in the UK could be living in ‘absolute poverty’.

Children’s services bosses for the council have called for a focus on breaking down ‘negative perceptions of child poverty’, improving ‘early help’ offers and helping families find work.

Karen Davison, the county council’s strategic manager for children services and chairwoman of its Child Poverty Working Group, said efforts were regularly made to track the ‘income and employment status’ of the county’s most deprived families so they can be directed to benefits and other support.

She added: ”The more children we can say have accessed activities proves more children are having a better holiday experience, the number of families we’ve helped to access a credit union, that kind of thing.

“But the overall impact is multifaceted - are we helping families get into jobs and stay in jobs?”