“We must work to ensure we tackle child poverty and ensure families in the Tees Valley thrive.”
Teachers in the Tees Valley are spending their own money on feeding, clothing and providing gas and electric for their pupils. Food and clothes banks in schools are now a common thing.
Since 2014/15 the number of families in poverty has risen nationally by a staggering 2.8% but in our region the stats are much, much worse. Middlesbrough has seen a rise in the percentage of children living in poverty from 26.8% to a heartbreaking 42.4%. The biggest rise in the country. Three of our local authorities, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland are in the top 20 for the highest proportion of children in income deprivation.
But why and how has this happened?
1) Austerity hit many people hard but nowhere has been hit as badly as the most vulnerable children. Sure Start centres were set up by the last Labour Government to provide help and support for families with children under 5 and proved to be a huge help to new parents especially in some of our most deprived areas. Their funding has now been cut by 62%, resulting in the closing of over 500 such centres. Other cuts were squarely aimed on squeezing cost savings from those same vulnerable families.
2) Benefit caps were introduced to restrict the benefits that families could claim to a maximum of two children. Introduced in 2017, this cap has had a devastating effect on larger families and according to work done by the Child Poverty Action Group this could ultimately effect 800,000 families and over 3 million children. In a survey of affected families 88% said it will affect their ability to feed and clothe their children and many talked of “feeling shame and guilt at not being able to offer a normal family life”.
3) Child care and afterschool clubs are expensive and provision is not sufficient. Many parents are forced to work less hours and in part time jobs with lower pay in order to balance work with childcare. Research by ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ found 35.5% of those that return to work only just break even or make a financial loss due to the cost of child care. 61.7% of those that return to work either work fewer hours, have changed jobs or stopped working due to child care costs (8% do not work due to the cost of child care).
This just isn’t good enough. We must work to ensure we tackle child poverty and ensure families in the Tees Valley thrive. There are some amazing community initiatives that have been springing up in response and we must get behind these but also push for a sea change in how families are prioritised politically too.
Some ideas we could be pushing for include:
- A family friendly charter for businesses to sign up to – getting businesses across the Tees to agree to have more family flexible policies such as home working and flexible working hours.
- Investment in parts of our economy that will lead to better pay and better jobs, aimed at those who have fallen behind in the labour market and particularly women and families.
- The development of community and family hubs across the Tees and an improved offer of afterschool and holiday club provision within local schools and communities.
- Investment into more and better childcare provision which is affordable and accessible.
- Campaign for the scrapping of the two child cap on welfare and an end to the five week wait for universal credit.
We must work collectively with our communities, businesses, councils and political leaders to ensure we make a better future for families in the Tees Valley.
Jessie Joe Jacobs is one of the co-founders of The Tees Online. She is also the Labour Party candidate for Metro Mayor of the Tees Valley, former Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of A Way Out charity, and Sunday Times social entrepreneur of the year. She is also a co-founder of The Eclipse and I Love Stockton Me, and director for Food and Drink North East.