STRUGGLING families could be “swept deeper into poverty” during the coronavirus crisis, campaigners have warned, as new figures were published showing the North-East has seen the country's biggest rise in child poverty since 2014.

Campaigners are now urging ministers to commit to an “ambitious strategy” to curb child poverty following the Covid-19 pandemic, which they fear could have “drawn more families below the poverty line”.

Using local child poverty indicators from 2018/19 – before the economic impacts of the crisis – the End Child Poverty coalition claims poverty has been “rising rapidly” among the poorest communities in Britain.

The research estimates that almost a quarter (23.7 per cent) of children in the North-East are in living in poverty before housing costs have been taken into account, up from 17.3 per cent four years ago – the biggest percentage rise in the country.

Broken down within the region, the data shows that Middlesbrough is the worst affected, with 37 per cent of children in the town living in poverty in 2019.

That was closely followed by Newcastle (28 per cent), Hartlepool (27 per cent), South Tyneside (26 per cent), Sunderland (24 per cent), Redcar and Cleveland (23 per cent), County Durham (22 per cent), Darlington (22 per cent), Gateshead (21 per cent), and Stockton (21 per cent).

With the figures being calculated prior to the impact of Covid-19 on household incomes, there are fears that many more families will now find themselves below the breadline.

The End Child Poverty coalition is calling on the Government to commit to an ambitious and comprehensive strategy to end child poverty in the UK as it plans the nation’s recovery from coronavirus.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “We may all be experiencing the storm of coronavirus together, but we are not all in the same boat.

“Children in the North-East are some of the most exposed to the devastating economic consequences of this crisis and are at severe risk of being swept deeper into poverty. Families who were already struggling to keep their heads above water are now living in fear that they can’t afford to keep their children and babies warm and well fed.

“That’s why we are asking the government to strengthen the social security system which is there to hold us steady during tough times, by immediately increasing household income for struggling families. Ending child poverty must be at the heart of our plan for economic recovery, so that when this crisis is over all children can enjoy a safe and happy life, thrive at school and have opportunities for the future.”

The report’s analysis shows children in some parts of the country are six times more likely to be growing up in poverty than in less deprived areas.

Jane Streather, chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, said: “It’s deeply concerning that the North-East has seen the biggest increase in child poverty rates over the last few years, and these figures demonstrate just how many families in our region were already struggling to make ends meet, even before the coronavirus crisis hit.

“Of course this terrible pandemic is not only exacerbating existing inequalities, but seeing many more families in our region being pulled into the grip of poverty as a result. It’s not right that tens of thousands of children and young people in the North-East are facing such hardship and ministers must act urgently to boost the incomes of families.

“The Government must also put a comprehensive strategy to end child poverty front and centre of the post-Covid recovery, with a social security system which provides a genuine safety net in difficult times. For children, that must include a significant rise in child benefit.”

The Department for Work and Pensions did not respond to a Northern Echo request to comment on the figures, however a recent statement from a DWP spokesperson on the issue said: “We are doing whatever it takes to support the lowest paid families through these unprecedented times, implementing an extensive package of measures to do so.

“Widespread support is available to families, including increased Universal Credit payments, contributory benefits, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Self-employment Income Support Scheme, Statutory Sick Pay, mortgage holidays and greater protection for renters.

“Despite the challenges of the current pandemic we remain committed to providing opportunities and tackling the root causes of poverty.”