Labour's promise after working North East families suffer 44% child poverty rise since 2010

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting
-Credit: (Image: Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel)

Labour has pledged to reverse a major escalation of child poverty in the North East and close the life expectancy gap between the region’s richest and poorest.

New analysis published today by the TUC has revealed a 44% increase in child poverty among working households in the region – with more than one in four children in working households here now growing up below the poverty line. Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, called the figures a “damning indictment on 14 years of Conservative government”.

Mr Streeting told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that his party would introduce measures such as free breakfast clubs and better home insulation to combat the scourge of child poverty, which affects almost half of all children in areas like the west end of Newcastle. Labour has, however, refused to scrap the two-child benefit cap at this stage.

According to the TUC, the number of North East kids living in poverty when at least one parent is in work increased from 83,400 in 2010 to 119,900 in 2023. Regional spokesperson Liz Blackshaw blamed a “toxic combination of pay stagnation, rising insecure work and cuts to social security” and said that reducing child poverty “must be a priority in the years ahead” for the winners of the July 4 General Election.

Asked what a Keir Starmer government would do about the problem, Mr Streeting told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “If there is a Labour government after the next General Election we will have a cross-government strategy for cutting child poverty, just like the last Labour government did. And we are going to get started straight away with a whole range of policies that will make a real difference.

“Providing free primary school breakfast clubs so children start the day with hungry minds instead of hungry bellies, building the affordable homes we need, tackling fuel poverty through better insulation – all of these things will make a real difference. I think one of the things that is worse now than under the last Labour government is that we have a real challenge now where so many children in poverty are growing up in households where one, if not both, parents work.

“I think we have got to change the future of work in this country so that if you are going out and doing a full day’s work you get a fair day’s pay and have enough not just to scrape by but to genuinely make ends meet.”

Many people across the country are struggling due to the high cost of food
Many people across the country are struggling due to the high cost of food -Credit:PA

According to the End Child Poverty Coalition, one in eight of all children growing up across the North East are now living in families affected by the Government’s ‘two-child limit’ – affecting 65,450 babies, children and young people in total. The cap means that almost all families having a third or subsequent child are no longer entitled to receive support for those children through Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit.

Mr Streeting said Labour was opposed to the limit and had “no doubt” about its impact on struggling families, but had to “make sure every promise we make is a promise we can keep and a promise the country can afford”.

Labour’s manifesto does pledge to halve the healthy life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest areas of England. The North East has a gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of 12.2 years for men and 9.7 years for women – the largest gaps of anywhere in England, says research produced by Sir Michael Marmot and the Institute for Health Equity based at University College London.

In some of the poorest parts of Newcastle, such as Walker and Elswick, a person’s healthy life expectancy is around 50 years – compared to 69.9 in the Parklands ward in the north of the city. Healthy life expectancy is the average number of years that a person can expect to live in good health.

Asked how Labour would close that gap, Mr Streeting replied: “On something like health and wellbeing, yes we have to get the NHS back on its feet and we have to make sure it is there for people when we need it – that is why we have committed to delivering 40,000 more appointments every week and doubling the number of scanners so we can cut waiting lists, it is why we have committed to train 8,500 more mental health staff to cut the mental health waiting list.

“But if we are serious about improving people’s health and wellbeing and closing the gap between rich and poor it means you need every arm of government focused on improving health and wellbeing and have to work in partnership with business, charities, and individual citizens to bring that about.

“For example, Labour’s new deal for working people which will ban exploitative zero hours contracts and improve people’s rights and conditions and pay at work – that is a workers’ rights policy, but it is also a health policy. If we are banning no fault evictions then that is not just a good housing policy that is a great mental health policy.

“If we are insulating people’s homes then that is not just great for people’s energy bills and keeping more money in their pockets, that is a great health policy. On breakfast clubs, if every child starts the day with a good nutritious breakfast then that is not just great for their learning and their socialising that is also a great health policy.”