NORTH-East organisations are demanding government action on child poverty in the region, including wider access to free school meals.

In a joint letter, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, VONNE (Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East) and the North East Child Poverty Commission state there is an urgent need to address growing levels of child poverty.

The letter said: “If government is serious about its levelling up agenda, this requires concerted action to make sure children and young people in our region can access opportunities and have the same life chances as anyone else.”

Carol Botten, the chief executive of Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East, said “Increasing levels of child poverty in the North-East is a key concern of many organisations, agencies and communities within the North East.

"This was an issue before Covid and will be only be exacerbated by the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The Northern Echo:

Carol Botten, the chief executive of Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East

"The government needs to act now and act fast to address child poverty and improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged children in our region.”

The North East Child Poverty Commission has set out a number of recommendations for government to tackle poverty in the region.

These include increasing housing assistance in line with inflation, retaining the £20 uplift in Universal Credit past April 2021 and extending free school meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit.

Commission chair, Jane Streather, said “It’s clear that – even before family incomes across the region were devastated by Covid-19 – the North-East urgently needed a new, comprehensive Government strategy to end child poverty, and this terrible pandemic has made the need for action more pressing than ever before.

"This letter is a united, cross-sector demand from our region to Government to act now.”

The Northern Echo:

James Ramsbotham, Chamber chief executive

Also included in the letter was End Child Poverty coalition research which showed the region has seen the UK’s largest increase in child poverty over the last four years from 26 per cent to 35 per cent.

James Ramsbotham, Chamber chief executive said: “This increase in child poverty is shocking and likely to rise even further due to the economic impact of Covid as the region now finds itself with the highest unemployment rate, the lowest employment rate and the lowest average hours worked of all British regions.

“Those in lower paid and less secure employment have been more affected by the crisis than those in more secure forms of employment.

"Children from low income families are more likely to experience worse physical and mental health, do less well in school, and have fewer opportunities in the future.”

“If the Government is serious about the levelling up agenda for regions like the North-East, we need to see both urgent and ongoing action to tackle child poverty and protect the most disadvantaged in society from the immediate and longer-term economic impacts of Covid.

"Children in the North-East need to have access to the same opportunities and life chances as children elsewhere in the UK, otherwise levelling up has failed."