'No one solution' to tackling child poverty in Northumberland
There’s no one solution to tackling child poverty, a leading Northumberland councillor has said, with councils, government, families and communities all having a role to play.
Addressing concerns about deprivation in the county and the inequalities between different areas, Coun Wayne Daley, the Tory deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This is a long-term generational issue and successive governments – Labour and Conservative – have spent money to try to address it.
“It’s not about one solution, you could chuck billions at this and you still wouldn’t deal with some of the deep-seated issues.”
But he added: “I do not walk away and do not treat this lightly. We have challenging parts of the county in all areas. We need to do more to address this on an ongoing basis.”
His comments came in the wake of Labour calling on the Tories to do more to combat child poverty in Northumberland as figures show that nearly 50% of children in some of the county’s most deprived areas are living in poverty.
The data, for 2017-18 and published by End Poverty Now, shows that the areas of Northumberland with the highest percentages of children living in poverty, after housing costs, include parts of Newbiggin (46%), Seaton (44%), Berwick (42%) and Bedlington (42%), as against lower figures in wards such as Cramlington North (16.2%), Corbridge (18.6%) and Ponteland West (19.2%).
Across Northumberland as a whole, 31.4% of children – a total of 20,493 – were said to be living in poverty after housing costs in 2017-18, an increase of 4.4% on 2016-17.
Many of the statistics were highlighted in the recent Wansbeck Child Poverty Report 2019, commissioned by the area’s MP, Ian Lavery, which also shares anecdotal evidence from teachers about children going hungry in the school holidays, not having winter coats for the colder months and one child going to school in their grandmother’s shoes as they didn’t have their own pair.
Coun Scott Dickinson, deputy leader of the Northumberland Labour Group, said: “This report reveals the growing divide in Northumberland under the Tories. It’s a scandal that you can travel from Cramlington to Newbiggin, a distance of less than 10 miles, and see an increase of nearly a third more children living in poverty.
“The Tories have a lot to answer for, their savage cuts will be felt for generations to come and as always the poorest will take the brunt.
“MP Ian Lavery’s Wansbeck Child Poverty Report makes grim reading. In all cases the North East fares worse than the national average with 35 per cent of children in the North East living in poverty compared to a UK-wide figure of 30 per cent.
“Labour councillors have been standing up for the many and not the few in Northumberland against a tide of Tory cuts. These child poverty statistics highlight Tory failings on a huge scale.
“Children are the future of Northumberland and we need to give them every opportunity we can.”
However, Coun Daley believes that there are areas of improvement in the county, suggesting that the easiest way to address child poverty is to get parents and carers into employment.
“There are improvements in employment,” he said. “That’s increasing all the time and that has a demonstrable effect on young people and the people around them.”
He also criticised the constant ‘talking down’ of Northumberland by politicians, with people being told that things are so bad, that the community is poor ‘when actually it’s a very strong community’.
Coun Daley added that the previous Labour administration spent millions of pounds on buying the Manor Walks Shopping Centre in Cramlington via the council-owned company Arch and wanted to spend millions more on a new ‘palace for councillors’ in Ashington, whereas the current leadership is investing money in new schools.
Cath McEvoy-Carr, the county council’s executive director of children’s services, also highlighted a range of initiatives that are taking place, many of which are being drawn together in a Children and Young People’s Plan that is being presented to full council at its meeting on Wednesday (November 6).
Giving children the best start in life is also one of the four key areas in the authority’s Joint Health and Wellbeing Plan, given that health and wellbeing – and their inequalities – are inextricably linked to deprivation.
The council also appointed a poverty coordinator for the first time in August 2017 and her role, working across departments, has really been as a crucial link with communities to find out what’s happening, share examples of good practice and provide support.
This includes everything from the Northumberland Community Bank and other means of offering fair advice and finance, to parents setting up a school uniform exchange, to increasing digital skills in more rural areas where children are at risk of isolation.
Another key area is schools, with Coun Daley saying that they ‘play a huge part in this whole joined-up approach’, and again it’s a case of ensuring that everyone is working together and where there are good examples of initiatives working, they are being shared and supported.
As previously reported, a number of successful summer programmes took place in Northumberland last year, with youngsters ‘returning to school enthused, more confident and full of stories’.
The council led a pilot of targeted provision in 2018, funded by the Department for Education via Children North East, with a focus on food and enrichment activities for those entitled to free school meals, which was delivered in Blyth and Hadston.
Money has been secured from a mixture of sources, which means that the council will continue to deliver provision from 2019 to 2021, and it includes a year-long external evaluation by Newcastle University.
Coun Daley also said that Falkirk Council has a 365-day-a-year meals programme for more deprived schoolchildren and he has called on officers to look into how that could be reproduced in Northumberland.
“We can do even more and I do not walk away from the fact that there’s still a challenge,” he added.
“Until we get into those communities, it will just continue as it has done for generations.
“But our poverty coordinator has been instrumental in making things happen.”