RISHI Sunak has spent the majority of his time as Prime Minister distancing himself from Boris Johnson, the man who elevated him into a position of political significance as Chancellor just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Britain.

This strained relationship has been placed back into the spotlight in recent days, with fears in No 10 that messages from Mr Sunak could reveal a plot to try to bring down Mr Johnson if they are handed over to the Covid Inquiry.

Read more: 190,000 North East children living in poverty as region suffers worst rise on record

The current Prime Minister can try all he likes to claim he is running the country different from his predecessors, but there is one striking similarity between their two premierships.

Under their watches, in fact under the last eight years of Tory rule, more and more people in the North East are living in poverty.

Shocking new figures published today show 51,000 more children are living in poverty in the region than in 2014/15. At 34 per cent, it is the largest rise anywhere in the country over that period.

The same analysis, published today by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty coalition, estimates that almost 190,000 – equivalent to 35 per cent – of babies, children, and young people are living in below the poverty line in the region. Nearly one in seven of those come from a working household.

In the UK, there are 4.2 million children living below the poverty line in 2021/22. This is equivalent to 29 per cent across the country.

But today’s report has found that of the twenty UK Parliamentary seats that have seen the biggest rises in child poverty since 2014/15, six of them are in the North East. They include Redcar, Sedgefield, Darlington, and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – four constituents with a Conservative MP.

The report uses figures for the year ending March 2022, and therefore does not consider the period where the cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation took hold – meaning the situation has undoubtedly worsened.

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Leigh Elliott, the Chief Executive of the charity Children North East, branded these statistics “shameful when we have the resources and ability as a country to put this right.”

Tracey Herrington, the manager of Thrive Teesside, added: “Behind everyone one of these statistics is a child whose family has seen the gap between what they have and what they need to get by grow even bigger, and those whose opportunities have been restricted as a result.”

Of course, levelling up can’t change things overnight. Long term projects are needed to really change our region’s economy and society. For it to make a significant and permanent difference, sticking plaster solutions are not the answer.

But for a long time now, these figures have been going in the wrong direction. More and more families are struggling, working parents are turning to food banks for the first time in their lives, and as a result pressures are increasing on schools to do more than simply educate our children– they are needing to keep pupils warm and fed.

And it is those in the North East who continue to suffer the most – and the gap with the south continues to widen.

Levelling up has never been properly defined – probably to make it easier to debate whether it has been successful or not. But one thing is clear, it can never succeed while more and more people in the North East are being plunged into poverty.

Until this is addressed, it has failed.