THE TRUE extent of child poverty in the North East is at risk of being swept under the carpet if the Government changes they way it assesses need, campaigners say.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith wants measures of poverty to focus less on household income and more on indicators like single parent families.
But his proposals have come under attack by campaigners who claim the move will wrongly present child poverty statistics, in an attempt to make them appear to be on the decline.
Former social policy consultant and Newcastle City councillor Jane Streather, said: “One third of children in the city live in poverty. We know these children are from very low income families and it’s shocking.
“The poverty analysis Iain Duncan Smith is putting out is actually trying to minimise the significance of income in poverty and our position is that poverty, while it is clearly multi-faceted, depends on the income coming into homes, jobs and job security.”
Coun Streather, deputy cabinet member for children’s services, will present a new framework for tackling child poverty across the city for the next three years to her colleagues on tomorrow.
She said: “To say the number of single parent families is a measure is wrong. Just because you’re a single parent, doesn’t mean you’re in poverty.” Child poverty is currently calculated by counting those living on less than 60% of an average income.
Mr Duncan Smith’s proposal, which is currently out to consultation, says the formula is outdated and should instead take into account family break down, drug addiction and debt.
But these “behavioural” definitions have come under fire from academics and anti-poverty campaigners who believe a new definition would fail to paint a realistic view of poverty in the North, while also ignoring the fact that two thirds of children in need have one working parent.
Coun Streather’s report – Tackling Child Poverty in Newcastle 2013 - 2016: Everybody’s Business – also sets out plans for a new analysis of poverty levels. Using the newly-formed Wellbeing For Life Boards, which come into force in April, she hopes levels of poverty can be measured over the next few years to analyse any improvements.
Alongside other Northern councils and a London borough, she also hopes to launch a national fight to save Sure Start centres, many of which are earmarked for closure as the city council makes £100m of budget cuts.
She said: “I’m going to launch a national campaign to defend Sure Start. It would be naive [to believe] that the cuts won’t have an impact and we have to argue for them.
“Although we’re talking about a three-year budget, we’re only talking about a decision for the first year. We have got time to promote Sure Start.”
Last night, children’s charities in the North East welcomed the council’s plans to look at the issue. Children North East said the report rightly points out the need to tackle the root causes of the issue.
Sara Bryson, policy and business development officer for the charity, said: “As well as strong words, Newcastle outline some key steps. Action such as a living wage can have an impact on children’s lives.
“We know over half of all children living in poverty are in working households, caught in the low pay, no pay cycle.
“A living wage can address this problem. As a charity, Children North East will too become a living wage employer. This is action all employers can and should take.
“We also welcome the commitment to listen to the views and lived experiences of children and young people themselves. We believe this is critical in taking action that works and is meaningful.”
Children North East is working in schools to develop an audit to reduce the stigma and discrimination children from deprived backgrounds often face.
Ms Bryson added: “We will continue to work in partnership with the city council and the North East Child Poverty Commission to do all that we can to address the scandal that is child poverty in our region.”