Low pay and rising prices are pushing thousands of North East families into poverty, a charity chief has told MPs.
Sara Bryson, policy and development officer at Children North East, said that the majority of children in poverty in the region came from working families and that rising employment had not translated into living standards for many.
Giving evidence to Parliament, she called for central and local Government bodies in the region to introduce the Living Wage so that families could cover the basic costs of living.
Ms Bryson said that more than 60% of all children living in poverty in the North East have working parents and that it was years of stagnant pay and high prices that has pushed many low-income families to breaking point.
“It’s about making sure when people do work they can afford to feed their children and send them to school,” said Ms Bryson. “In order to do that they need to earn a living wage.
“National Government is very much focussed on getting people jobs in the private sector but the recession has hit hard and industry still hasn’t fully recovered up here. The region’s public sector, which has always been our most dominant employer, has also been hit hard.
“One in four children and young people in the North East live below the official poverty line. It is not fair or right that they don’t get the same chances and breaks as their peers.”
During the Parliamentary discussion, Ms Bryson shared her views, opinions and knowledge around poverty in schools and child poverty issues.
The Children’s Commission on Poverty and The Children’s Society will meet in August and September to review the findings from the sessions and produce an independent report which will be published in October.
“Education is so important to lift children out of poverty but they need to have a positive experience at school,” added Ms Bryson. “Some children will never have been on a school trip, they will have gone without meals, warm clothes and perhaps felt embarrassed or scared to bring their friends home.
“I was brought up in Blakelaw, in Newcastle’s west end, and it was my first school trip that inspired me to go on to university and study.
“As well as adopting the Living Wage we need to work closely with schools to maintain a bursary for pupils after the National Education Maintenance Allowance was abolished and ensure schools are effectively using the Pupil Premium funding from the Government to support disadvantaged children.
“We also doing terrific work as a charity at helping teachers and school staff better understand the individual needs of children in poverty. This goes a long way to abolishing the stigma and prejudices felt between children at school.”
The latest figures show that 24.5% of children in the North East are in poverty, compared to a UK average of 20.6%.
That figure rises to 29% in Newcastle and the proportion of children living in poverty in some parts of the city is far higher. In both Walker and Byker, in the city’s east end, the figure rises above 50%.