A NEW report has warned that children living in the North of England are among the most vulnerable to rising living costs.
The Child Poverty and the Cost of Living Crisis report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group Child of the North, has found that children in the North are some of the least protected from the current cost of living crisis.
New analysis released 24th January, 2023 shows that child poverty, including fuel poverty and food insecurity, is higher in the North than the rest of England. For many families the current economic chaos will deepen an enduring child poverty crisis in the region.
The report found:
- During the pandemic, 34% of children in the North (around 900,000) were living in poverty, compared with 28% in the rest of England. This equates to 160,000 extra children in poverty in the North.
- Before the current crisis, around one million households in the North were fuel poor, proportionally more households than in the rest of England – 15% in the North compared to 12%
- In the North, the standing charge for energy prepayment meter customers in Yorkshire and the North East is higher (at around £3.80 per week) than the UK average (of £3.60 per week)
- 23% of children in England who are food insecure miss out on free school meals
- Families in the North are more likely to be living in poor quality, damp homes. Before living costs started to rise, over 98,500 homes in the North already had some form of damp and 1 million homes in the North failed ‘decent homes’ criteria
 (above what would be expected if children in the North experienced the levels of poverty experienced in the South)
The report authors have issued a stark warning to government that rising living costs will lead to immediate and lifelong harms for children: worsening physical and mental health outcomes; undermining children’s learning, social wellbeing and education; and risking lower lifelong health and productivity.
Emma Lewell-Buck, MP and Co-Chair APPG Child of the North, said: “Whilst poverty is, sadly, not a new experience for many children in the North, the scale and severity of deprivation is now unprecedented. As the cost of living crisis worsens, vulnerable children and families, especially in the North, are being pushed to the edge. This report outlines the injustice of deprivation in our country and presents policy measures that, if implemented, could ensure that children in our region are never left hungry, cold or without.”
Mary Robinson, MP Co-Chair APPG Child of the North, said: “The findings of the report serve as a stark reminder of the devastating reality of child poverty in the North. It is heartbreaking to hear stories of those living this reality and the uncertainty of what the future holds. What is clear is the need for immediate action to tackle the crisis before long-term harm is caused to the children of the North.”
Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York, and co-author of the new report, said: “Many areas across the North of England have seen rising child poverty in recent years. As economic stress is pushing up the price of food, energy and fuel, more and more families are having to make difficult decisions on how to spend their money. We risk seeing more children falling deeper into poverty if measures aren’t implemented by government to adequately help those living in areas that are the most vulnerable to rising living costs.”
David Taylor Robinson, Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, and co-author of the report, said: “Poverty is the key driver of inequalities between children in the North and the rest of the country, which we know leads to worse physical and mental health, poorer educational attainment and life chances. All children, no matter where they are born, should be entitled to the same life chances. However, we know this sadly isn’t the case. The pandemic contributed to widening inequalities and now the rising cost of living will place further strain on families with children.
“Parents across the North are having to go without meals to feed their children, and the situation will only get worse unless policies are put in place to ensure families have enough support to keep their children fed and warm.”
Hannah Davies, Health Inequalities lead for the Northern Health Science Alliance and report co-author, said: “It comes as no surprise that areas across the North of England are regarded as being the most vulnerable to the cost of living crisis. The combination of increasing inflation, more people living in poverty, in lower paid jobs or unable to work, in receipt of social security support, and already facing high levels of financial stress and debt, makes it extremely difficult for families to absorb new shocks on costs. We urge the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of children and to consider the clear recommendations put forward in this report.”
Sophie Balmer, End Child Poverty Youth Ambassador, said: “Having grown up living in a family on a low income, I want to use my voice to explain the reality of what it’s like for hundreds of thousands of children across the North. Even now I am at university and relatively financially secure, the worry doesn’t leave. I remember the unbearable anxiety and how it all impacted on my life. The greatest impact was on my education. It isn’t just missing a meal or feeling hungry during the day, it’s the worry of how your sister’s school trip will be paid for, or how you haven’t seen your mam eat a proper meal in days – all going through your head in a chemistry lesson. It creates anxiety. And when combined with the stress of school, this explains the impact on educational attainment for children living in poverty. The pressure for change is much more intense at the minute. The government needs to help families. It doesn’t feel like an ask anymore. It’s an absolute need.”
Further key findings from the report include:
- During the pandemic, a drop in median income and the £20 universal credit uplift contributed to a sharp decrease in relative child poverty across the UK, but not in the North: around 900,000 children in the North continue to live in poverty (34% of children in the North compared with 28% in the rest of England)
- In Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East, child poverty is now the highest it has been since 2000/2001
- There are proportionally more parliamentary constituencies in the North with high levels of child poverty: in 2020/21 the proportion of constituencies with child poverty above 40% was twice as high in the North as in the rest of England
- Children in the North are more likely to be living in fuel poverty than those in the rest of England: before the current crisis 15% of households in the North (around one million) were fuel poor, compared with 12% in the rest of England
- In 13 parliamentary constituencies in the North, over 20% of households were already fuel poor: Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Manchester Gorton, Sheffield Central, Hull North, Leeds Central, Bradford West, Leeds East, Bradford East, Rotherham, Doncaster North, Barnsley East, Huddersfield and Liverpool Riverside
- Families on prepayment meters are increasingly self-disconnecting due to the high price of energy – potentially having no light, heat, hot water, or ability to cook, and at an increased risk of damp, with particular risks for babies and young children – but still face high standing charges, despite not using any gas or electricity
- The standing charge that customers pay for energy and the government-backed price guarantee differs regionally: in the North, the standing charge for prepayment meter customers in Yorkshire and the North East is higher (at around £3.80 per week) than the UK average (of £3.60 per week)
- Children in the North are more likely to be living in food insecure homes than those in the rest of England. As living costs rise, food insecurity is increasing much faster amongst households with children than without
- 23% of children in England who are food insecure miss out on free school meals as only families with a very low income are eligible to apply
Cost of living crisis impacts
- Local authorities in the North are the most vulnerable to rising living costs across the whole of England. Many families with children are already going without essentials, getting behind with essential bill payments, or taking on debt, reflecting real harm, stress and suffering
- Living in cold, damp, draughty homes is a serious risk for child health and will increase as families struggle to heat homes: proportionally more homes in the North already had some form of damp – over 98,500 – (4% compared to 3.7% for the rest of England) and 1.1 million failed ‘decent homes’ criteria (17% compared to 14.7% in the rest of England) before living costs started to rise.
- The current crisis raises particular risks for young children and babies as families struggle to make ends meet: research shows that each 1% increase in child poverty is associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births
- The shame, anxiety and worry faced by young people living in families on a low-income can make it difficult to concentrate in school, to feel included, and to afford the resources needed to learn well and join in with friends, which undermines educational outcomes and social wellbeing
The report was prepared by experts from northern organisations and universities for the APPG Child of the North. The APPG brings together policy makers and experts in child outcomes from across the country to find solutions to the disparities suffered by children in the North of England. The group was launched following the publication of The Child of the North report, produced by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and N8 Research Partnership.
A suite of recommendations to government have been laid out by the report authors to ensure families with children have enough money and security of income to meet basic needs, such as healthy food to eat and warm homes.
The recommendations include:
- Increase benefits in line with inflation at the earliest opportunity and commit to ensure that benefits rise in a timely way in line with inflation long-term
- Immediately pause the Universal Credit five-week minimum wait, sanctions and deductions for families for the next six months when this can be reviewed
- Consult on wider reforms to the social security system in order to invest in the reduction of child poverty, including: increasing child benefit by up £20/week; increasing the child element of universal credit; suspending the two child limit
- Expand Free School Meals (FSMs) to all children whose families are in receipt of universal credit, as the simplest and most effective way of reaching all children affected by poverty and food insecurity, with an ambition of achieving FSMs for all primary pupils
- Support food provisioning for children under school age by expending the Healthy Start Scheme to all families on universal credit and commit to increase the value in line with inflation
- Ensure consistent support so that children do not go hungry during school holidays.
- Extend financial support beyond the current social security system to groups most in need, especially carers, those dependent on essential powered medical equipment, and low income households not in receipt of means-tested benefits
- Introduce specific financial support for families using prepayment meters (including action by Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the energy regulator on standing charges and energy debt) and suspend prepayment meter installations over the winter
- Consult on the introduction of a mandatory social tariff to guarantee an affordable price of energy for fuel poor and vulnerable households
- Prioritise action to improve the energy efficiency of homes, including social housing and the private rental sector
- Immediately resolve data-sharing issues between the Department for Work and Pensions, NHS Business Authority and Department of Health and Social Care and use existing data to auto-enrol all eligible families on the Healthy Start Scheme
- Use existing data to auto-enrol all eligible pupils for FSMs (rather than relying on families, schools and local authorities to do this)
- Ensure that existing data can be disaggregated by region and that ethnicity is included in all national data collection systems
- Ensure that there is a joined-up and place-based approach within national government to address child poverty and the cost of living crisis
- Prioritise the development of an integrated health inequalities strategy as part of ‘levelling up’, with an explicit focus on children and addressing child poverty, and including action to ‘poverty-proof’ schools
Read the full report here.