Last week’s report from the North East Child Poverty Commission is a timely reminder of the country’s direction before the pandemic struck. NECPC is part of the End Child Poverty Coalition and research is based on the Government’s own figures. The headline shows 4.3 million children were living in relative poverty by 2020 – an increase of 500,000 in five years. Worryingly three quarters of families had someone in work suggesting that low paid workers just above the poverty line were hit hard by the freeze on in work benefits. The North East is one of the hardest hit regions and after London, had the second highest increase in child poverty of any region. 17 of the 20 Parliamentary constituencies with the highest increase are in the North East.
The Public Inquiry into COVID recently announced by the Prime Minister may wish to look at the social and economic state of the country before the pandemic struck. Already the promise to build back seems to fall short of the ambition required but families living in poverty may be less concerned about statistics than trying to make sure there is enough food on the table.
The report offers a number of actions to tackle this national disgrace. The £20 increase in Universal Credit should stay. With one in four children living in poverty not eligible for free school meals, free school meals should be extended and government should focus support on families with children. When the pandemic ends, and it will end, the country cannot return to business as usual.