THE Government has been slammed by Labour councillors for the “national scandal” of a report revealing early child poverty is at its highest in the North East.

The report from the Nuffield Foundation found the region had the highest rate of early childhood poverty at 46 per cent, followed by London at 41 per cent.

County Durham had the ninth highest increase in child poverty rates in the country, up 8.6 per cent from 2014 to 2019, according to the independent charity.

The Middlesbrough Council area had the highest rise of 12.5 per cent, with 8.7 to 11 per cent increases in Newcastle, South Tyneside, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Gateshead and Redcar and Cleveland, compared to two per cent nationally.

The report identifies ways to tackle childhood poverty including “a financial bedrock for families with young children living on a low income, through improved social security benefits and access to employment”.

County Durham Labour leaders hit out at the Government, citing austerity, public service cuts, welfare reforms, underfunding, the free school meals vote, the National Insurance hike and the removal of the Universal Credit £20 uplift.

Cllr Angela Surtees, Labour’s Communities and Inclusion lead, said: “The Nuffield study shines a spotlight on the lie of this Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, and should shame those in Parliament who voted against free school meals during a pandemic. “This is a national scandal,”she said

She said: “Experiencing poverty at the beginning of your life can be damaging. It can have profound effects on children’s wellbeing.

“The pandemic’s hit us harder and unless we’re levelled up properly and unless this government steps in to aid our recovery, it’ll take longer and we’ll have more generations of young people left behind.”

Cllr Olwyn Gunn, a member of Durham County Council’s children and young people’s scrutiny commission and Labour’s children and young people lead, added: “It’s quite appalling. The Government has frequently raised promises about levelling up and we’ve seen no evidence of that whatsoever.

“What the Government needs to do is look at both the short and the long-term implications of what is happening up here in the North East as a matter of urgency. We’ve been saying this for over 10 years now.

“All we can see at the moment is a dive rather than an uplift.

“Families are struggling to feed children, to clothe them, to provide heating, to provide what they need in their homes and even actually keeping their homes, to support children in their school work.”

Cllr Jon Clarke, Darlington Council’s Conservative cabinet member for children and young people, said: “All we can do is lobby our MPs, give our views. Councillors can affect what happens in our authorities and I think that’s what we should put our focus.

“I really don’t like playing politics with children’s lives to be honest.”

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