Prioritising child poverty this party conference season
Earlier this year, IPPR North and the North East Child Poverty Commission launched a new project to jointly explore what a child poverty strategy for the North East could and should look like.
This is a significant challenge – our region has experienced the steepest increases in child poverty of anywhere in the UK since 2014/15. Two-thirds of children living in poverty across the North East are from working families. And we have a larger share of children and young people living in a number of groups of families who have a higher risk of poverty, including those where someone has a disability and lone parents.
Now is the time for leaders at all levels to act on this critical issue for the North East, if our region is to fulfil its incredible potential
But we also have a significant opportunity. Next year could bring a general election, along with regional elections for two combined authority mayors with significant funding, networks, and voice to intervene. Now is the time for leaders at all levels to act on this critical issue for the North East, if our region is to fulfil its incredible potential.
That’s why we have progressed this work at pace, informed by our cross-sector advisory group chaired by former regional MP Baroness Hilary Armstrong. Over the last few months, we have heard from local government, business and employers, charities and community organisations, trade unions, academia, social workers, teachers, school leaders, housing providers, welfare rights advisers, youth workers, healthcare practitioners, and many more – including young people themselves.
we simply will not have the resources within our region to fund interventions on the scale of interventions like the Scottish child payment
There is a real commitment and tangible enthusiasm for working more closely together on this issue, across sectors and geographies. We have identified a number of regional priorities, as well as examples of good practice already happening at local level. These regional and local levers will form the basis of our final report, which will be published in early 2024.
But we know the overwhelming majority of policy levers available to tackle child poverty in England still rest with the UK government. Even with expanded devolution from next year, we simply will not have the resources within our region to fund interventions on the scale of interventions like the Scottish child payment.
That’s why, ahead of party conferences, we are setting out some of the clear, national calls emerging from this research and our engagement with a broad range of individuals and organisations working across the North East, which would make a meaningful difference to addressing child poverty.
- Strengthening our safety net: so that it prevents and reduces poverty, rather than trapping families in it – including by lifting the two-child limit and benefit cap, ending the five-week wait for universal credit and lower rate for parents under 25; and shifting away from sanctions and towards mentorship support for struggling parents.
- Improving access to early years education and support for families: to help give our children the best start in life – including by ensuring all three- and four-year olds are eligible for 30 hours free early years education; transformationally investing in community-led family hubs; extending free school meals at least to all children in receipt of universal credit; and expanding wraparound care for primary school children beyond the planned pilot schemes.
- Tackling in-work poverty: so that work is the route out of poverty it should be – including by fixing the national living wage to the real living wage, extending sick pay, and by reviving the employment bill to improve working conditions, which was promised in 2019 and shelved last year.
Beyond these specific interventions, there must be recognition that poverty prevention and reduction needs to be a joined-up, ambitious and integral feature of policymaking. It remains the case that child poverty is directly undermining the government’s levelling up agenda, and there must be cross-government responsibility to address it. Government should monitor both absolute and relative child poverty levels, and assess policies against their impact – ensuring that poverty prevention and reduction for families is a ‘golden thread’ running throughout.
For many children, the North East is a beautiful, resilient, and fantastic place to grow up
We know from relatively recent history that child poverty is highly policy-responsive, including here in the North East. It is therefore for national political leaders to seize this responsibility as we approach the next general election. But before then, our project will continue to convene organisations and decision-makers across the North East to consider what more we can do ourselves, including through the opportunities presented by devolution. For many children, the North East is a beautiful, resilient, and fantastic place to grow up. Through this work, we can help ensure our region is the best place to grow up and thrive - for every child.
If you live in the North East and have any ideas you’d like to share with us – or your organisation would like to join the many others that have already contributed to this work – please do get in touch with Amanda or Luke.
Amanda Bailey is director of the North East Child Poverty Commission. She tweets at @nechildpoverty.
Luke Myer is a research fellow at IPPR North. He tweets at @IPPRLuke.