Back in 2019, in the face of rapidly rising child poverty levels in the North East, I teamed up
with the National Education Union (NEU) to produce a child poverty report. The aim of the
report was to highlight the key causes and effects of child poverty in the North East with a
specific focus on my constituency of Wansbeck.
Since then, we have seen unprecedented and unforeseen changes to our social and political fabric as our communities were hit with a global pandemic turning our lives upside down. Other than the very few most wealthy in this country and across the world, everyone has felt the effects of the past year.
But some have felt them harder than others. As with most things, those already struggling the most have been hit the hardest. Mass unemployment and the biggest recession the country has seen in generations will have long lasting and devastating effects in our communities unless the appropriate steps are taken to protect them.
This all comes on the back of a decade of brutal austerity and cuts. Vital community assets have been slashed, schools and police are starved of funding and resources and wages have stagnated while the cost of living and house prices have soared. All the while the richest in the UK and around the world continue to amass extravagant wealth, a process only accelerated during the pandemic.
The effects on the life of someone growing up in poverty cannot be overstated. The numbers suggest those growing up in poverty are at a disadvantage in practically every metric measurable, from health, educational outcome, career prospects, crime, drug abuse and more.
Despite all the government’s talk of levelling up, recent data that has come to light has shown that even before the pandemic child poverty levels in the North East continued to rise rapidly as the effects of a decade of austerity and cuts began to have a deep impact with no signs of slowing down.
We live in a beautiful place with a rich history full of wonderful people. Our children are brimming with talent and potential, but are being let down by the current political, social, and economic landscape they find themselves growing up in.
Wansbeck is a proud community and many people who fall into the accepted definition of poverty would resent the description and reject the categorisation. Most people simply want a job providing fair work and an honest wage, to be able to afford a home and to build a family while having a community around them that provides the structures for a meaningful and fulfilling life. Sadly, despite the modesty of these goals, for many in Wansbeck and millions of others across the UK today, they have become unrealistic.
As a result, I have decided to produce an updated report on child poverty in Wansbeck, looking deeper at its causes and effects, as well as attempting to identify what measures can be taken both in the short and long term to fight back against it.
While the report is focused on the problems facing Wansbeck, there are no doubt other constituencies in the North East and other parts of the country who will find themselves facing similar circumstances and challenges, and the findings of the report will come as no surprise to those living and working in these places around the country.
Child poverty is at crisis point in the North East and is the biggest challenge we face. That this is true in a region of a country with one of the largest economies in the world in the 21st century is astounding. This must be addressed immediately and comprehensively before the worst outcomes of such a political situation manifest themselves.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all those who helped produce this report that I sincerely hope will provide a basis for Wansbeck to rebuild following the pandemic in a way that puts those in need first.