COUNCILLORS have expressed shock and alarm at rising child poverty figures for County Durham.

The statistics revealed more than a quarter of the county’s children under 16 lived in relative poverty, in households earning less than 60 per cent of average income.

This figure soared by 70 per cent for five to 15-year-olds in the last five years.

A council report said: “Child poverty in County Durham continues to be on the rise.”

It estimated 25.8 per cent of under-16s lived in “relative poverty”, and 21.7 per cent in “absolute poverty”.

Karen Davison, strategic manager in children’s services and chair of the Child Poverty Working Group, told councillors of the group’s efforts to tackle the issue.

She spoke at Durham County Council’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee of the group’s vision to understand poverty levels, support affected children, narrow the gap and raise children’s aspirations and resilience.

She outlined the progress made in helping vulnerable families by providing free school meals, free laptops, food and fuel vouchers, online debt and benefit advice, beds and appliances, and using government funds and grants.

They delivered 1,300 hampers to families over Christmas, took children to panto, helped 3,820 people under the Healthy Start Programme and worked with schools on the stigma of poverty and reducing costs.

After lobbying government, they received £2.3m for holiday activities with healthy food over school holidays, with over 19,000 children using the programme in the summer.

Cllr Rob Crute said: “It is reassuring to see that as a council we’re doing everything we possibly can on limited resources. I’m sure most of us would agree it’s quite alarming to be sat here in the 21st century, the fifth richest country in the world, talking about deepening poverty caused by disproportionate distribution of wealth to those at the top.

The Northern Echo:

“Unless the government’s forced to recognise our plight and to accept the role they’ve played in creating it, our communities are going to continue to struggle.

“Officers are working hard around the clock to address a lot of the issues in this report.

“The point is, we shouldn’t be having to face issues like this. It’s impacting the residents and young children in County Durham disproportionately. We need to be making a demand politically for something to be done about this. We need to be putting pressure on the government.”

Cllr Bill Kellett said: “Looking at these figures, they are shocking.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Bill KellettCllr Bill Kellett

“That’s a sad indictment of a Tory government. We should not be here talking about distributing food parcels. We shouldn’t be in that position.

“And this council, this Tory-led council, let’s be honest, should be doing something about it.”

The Labour member was stopped by meeting chairman Cllr Chris Hood, who said: “This needs to be apolitical. I understand the frustrations and feelings when it comes down to the politics. If you have these comments and feelings, please bring them to full council. But this is not the place for it.

“This is not about political parties. It is about the scrutiny and the overview of the work that Durham County Council does for children and young people. I won’t repeat that.”

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