THE next few months are going to be incredibly tough for families across the North East, as the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation really begins to bite.

The many thousands who were already struggling to make ends meet will be worst affected by soaring living costs as they spend a far greater proportion of their budget on essentials such as food and energy bills, and much less likely to have savings set aside to help weather the coming storm.

So far, the Government’s response to this situation has been piecemeal, poorly-targeted and fails to meet the scale of the challenge ahead. It leaves growing numbers of parents and carers with impossible decisions about what more – if anything – they can cut back on, and the lowest income families effectively cut adrift.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We know that action can be taken to support family incomes – and child poverty is not inevitable – if the political will is there. Indeed, that’s what the Government did at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when it increased Universal Credit by £20 a week, recognising that our inadequate safety net was sorely in need of strengthening.

As such, child poverty figures published last week indicate there were 3.9m children growing up in poverty across the UK in 2020-21. This is a staggeringly high and unacceptable number – but represents a fall of around 400,000 on the year before, coinciding with the decision to invest in Universal Credit in this way.

In contrast, not only has that Universal Credit increase already been taken away – but those on the lowest incomes, both in and out of work, now face a rise in social security support of just 3.1 per cent this April when inflation is expected to hit eight per cent. We are consequently back on a trajectory where child poverty is rising and will have returned to the record levels of the mid-1990s within just a few years.

The Prime Minister has made bold pledges to ‘level up’ the UK, by raising living standards and spreading opportunity in all parts of the country. And yet child poverty – the leading driver of economic, health and educational inequalities for children across the North – didn’t receive a single mention in the Government’s 332-page Levelling Up White Paper; a glaring omission that seemed to come as a surprise to Boris Johnson when challenged on the issue in Parliament last week.

To begin to turn this around, the Chancellor must ensure benefits rise by inflation this month. He should also restore the £20 a week cut from Universal Credit, and meaningfully increase Child Benefit – which has lost nearly a quarter of its value since 2010.

Doing so would give local families at least a chance of keeping their heads above water, and offer babies, children and young people across the North East the support they need now. We only get one shot at childhood, and they can’t afford to wait for promises to be ‘levelled up’ in eight years’ time while having their opportunities and potential restricted by poverty’s grip today.

With one of the highest and fastest rising rates of child poverty in the country, tackling this scourge should be the defining mission of policymakers in our region – backed up by joined-up thinking across a government that puts ending child poverty front and centre of its plans, rather than forgetting to mention it at all.

That is the case I look forward to making – alongside colleagues in different sectors across the region – when I take on the role of Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission from May.