THE recession is hitting the North-East’s poorest children the hardest, with 200,000 youngsters now living in poverty, a charity has warned.

Save the Children says nearly one in three young people in the region are living below the poverty line, often missing regular hot meals and unable to afford a winter coat.

In its latest report, It Shouldn’t Happen Here, the charity highlights children’s experiences living in recession-hit Britain and the extent to which poverty is blighting young lives.

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Graham Whitham, Save the Children policy advisor, said: “The North-East has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country, particularly places like Middlesbrough, Sunderland and South Tyneside .

“In some areas, as many as one in three children are living in poverty.

“Our report found that increasingly children are missing out on food and clothes because money is so tight. Unless something is done, things are going to get worse before they get better.”

In a snapshot of family life under pressure, the survey finds that children worry about their family not having enough money, with more than half of those living in poverty saying the lack of cash made their parents unhappy or stressed.

Nearly a quarter of the poorest parents say they are arguing more or snap at their children because of their money troubles.

As well as aiming to raise £500,000 to help the UK’s poorest children, the charity is calling for the Government to encourage more employers to pay the living wage, rather than the minimum wage.

The charity is also calling on ministers to strengthen the new welfare system – universal credit – by allowing working parents to keep more of their earnings before benefits are withdrawn.

Save the Children spoke to more than 1,500 youngsters and 5,000 parents for the study.

The extent of child poverty in the North-East and the importance of tackling the issue was yesterday highlighted by Steve Oversby, director of Barnardo’s North-East.

He said: “Behind the statistics sit the most vulnerable children in society, whose life chances are being compromised by our nation’s failure to tackle child poverty.

“The grim reality that many families face is of vicious cycles of debt and impossible choices between heating homes or cooking hot meals for their children.

“Unless action is taken urgently to create better life chances for children, the outlook for families will remain shamefully bleak.”