Last week I was speaking to teachers in the Tees Valley who shared how they’d been spending their own money on feeding, clothing and providing gas and electric for their pupils and I was astounded. How have our teachers become social workers over educators?
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. Austerity has hit hard everyone 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. The Tories responded to this by cutting funding by 62% and resulting in the closing of over 500 such centres. Other cuts were squarely aimed on squeezing cost savings from those same poverty stricken families. 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 work done by the Child Poverty Action Group could ultimately effect 800000 families and over 3m 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”  .
Unfortunately it is clear that under this Conservative government domestic issues like child poverty take a backseat but in the Labour Party this is an absolute priority. We have promised that we would scrap benefit caps and the Two Child limit, invest in 1000 new Sure Start Centres and expand free childcare in order to help parents get back into the workforce. We pledged to poverty proof our schools by providing free school meals to all primary school children and to tackle the costs of new school uniforms that put such a burden on parents every August. Most importantly, we would tackle these issues at the root of the problem by introducing a Real Living Wage and abolish in work poverty.
At a more local level, as Mayor, I will work to ensure we tackle child poverty and ensure families in the Tees Valley thrive, this means working with businesses to have more family flexible policies. Investing 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 and I will seek to develop community hubs that allow everyone to feel like they can find help and support. I believe by working collectively with our communities we can make a better future for everyone.
 Centre of research in Social Policy at Loughborough University research based on DWP Child poverty stats