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Empowering Communities: Addressing Child Poverty North of the Tyne

Updated: Jun 26

By Cllr Karen Kilgour

Child poverty retention programme

As our children settle in to the new term back at school, I cannot stop thinking about the latest child poverty stats from the Campaign to End Child Poverty, released in July, and just how disturbing they are.

At a time when most families are worrying about how to pay their heating bills this winter and where their next meal is coming from, these findings show that the North East is already the UK region with the sharpest increase in child poverty levels - up seven percentage points from 2010/11.

The figures show that child poverty rates in 2020/21 rose to 42% in Newcastle, 36% in Northumberland and 35% in North Tyneside. And what is more, across the North East as a whole, more than 70% of children affected, live in working households.

Income lies at its heart of course, but this issue is influenced by so many other factors. Nearly half of those in poverty are disabled, or live with a disabled person. Almost half of UK food bank users are in debt to the Department for Work and Pensions.

But statistically, and of importance to our task, within a class of 30 children and an average poverty rate of 42% in Newcastle, that means at least 12 will live in poverty.

So, what can be done to tackle it?

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is dedicated to a truly inclusive economy. As portfolio holder for Education, Inclusion and Skills, I have said before that it is not poverty but opportunity which is every child’s birth right - with a fair chance in life, support and security.

North of Tyne Combined Authority are working to share best practice across our three constituent authorities – Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside - to systematically address the causes and symptoms of child poverty. We have listened to the North East Child Poverty Commission, we took advice from schools and parents, and we developed our Child Poverty Prevention Programme to build on the work currently being undertaken by our three local authorities. Our programme is focused on three pillars:

Pillar 1 is funding an innovative programme of poverty interventions in schools across the North of Tyne. Working with schools on uniform, providing free after school clubs, and helping families with cooking and finances. Over 2,500 are benefiting. We are working with 70 schools at the moment, increasing this to 90 in the coming weeks.

Pillar 2 is the provision of welfare support to parents. Here, we are running a pilot that brings welfare rights advice into the familiar, safe setting of a school so that struggling parents can receive advice and referrals to further support before they have even left the school gates.

Pillar 3 is working with employers to tackle in-work poverty. Unfortunately, employment is not always a route out of poverty, with three out of four children in poverty coming from working families. Besides ensuring employers are paying a decent living wage, our work includes addressing financial insecurity through access to credit unions, in-work savings schemes and raising awareness on workplace practices that are detrimental to those living in poverty.

With our partner, the social enterprise, Society Matters, we are supporting more than 30 businesses across the region to implement an anti-poverty strategy by autumn 2023, helping 2,000 families.

We are starting to make early progress. As this pilot programme seeks to add value in communities and avoid duplication, we are working with local authority partners and establishing how the programme can enhance, meet need and complement existing support – we are particularly interested in how we can add value in schools which are situated close to local authority boundaries.

We are on track to engage 90 schools to take part in our Child Poverty Prevention Programme this year and recently received some encouraging feedback from one of the schools we will be working with.

Wendy Atkinson, senior leader at Newsham Primary School, said:

“We have developed relationships and trust with families over the years, many of whom regularly seek assistance from us with issues unrelated to school. Being able to provide rapid advice and instantly refer them to the appropriate organisation will be a huge help to families, who will leave the school gates feeling a sense of relief as we have quickly addressed their problem and directed them towards the help required.”

We are delivering a range of benefits to schools by addressing inequalities for children and young people, providing access to funding to improve support for families, giving schools a voice and an opportunity to influence future programme and policy decisions.

For teachers, by providing support for children and families, we are reducing pressures on staff. We are ensuring teachers can share and hear about best practice, and in the longer term, we strive to support children, opening more opportunities with raised aspirations.

These are some of the outcomes that we can realistically achieve. With more feedback from schools around the practical assistance and advice we can offer, this will help us to achieve better outcomes all round.

We continue to make progress, but there is so much more to do, especially in the face of the winter months ahead. The Child Poverty Prevention programme is dedicated to working across the system to make an impact on child poverty in our area. Children are our future. They deserve much better. We have only just begun the journey of support to improve their life chances in our combined authority area.


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