Liverpool’s YPAG highlights the impact of the cost of living crisis on children in the North of England

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Channel 4 news room with presenter and Paul Walmsley and Alyssa Cole sat on chairs

A report published 24 January 2023 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Child of the North, revealed children in the North are more likely to live in poverty than anywhere else in England. The report’s authors warn rising living costs will lead to immediate and lifelong harms for children, including physical and mental health, undermined education, and lower productivity.

Members of Liverpool’s Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG), Alyssa Cole, 14-years-old, and Paul Walmsley, Children’s Rights Expert, highlight the reality of the living conditions for children and families in the North of England due to the ongoing cost of living crisis and underfunding of public services, on Channel 4 News in response to the report published (24 January 2023).

Speaking of their own experience in the cost of living crisis, Alyssa Cole, Young Persons Advisory Group, says:

“At the moment, it’s very difficult for many people to be able to afford simple things and simple necessities, like breakfast… It’s just horrendous the challenges that people are facing.
I can see it’s taken a huge toll on her [mum] because a lot of the time she’s stressing… and it’s just heart wrenching to see. Obviously, that [then] takes a toll on my mental health, and my brother’s. The access to CAMHS [mental health service] is a 6-month wait if you’re lucky, so it all just ties in and it’s like a vicious circle".

Paul Walmsley, Research Fellow in Children’s Rights and Social Justice, University of Liverpool, has worked on the frontline in one of England’s most deprived communities, Knowsley, Merseyside, for a number of years. Speaking of the response from local residents, Paul says:

“[What I’m seeing at the minute is] desperation. I’m seeing families struggle, [due to] lack of services and lack of funding as well to try and help these families and the communities. Families are telling me ‘it’s just getting worse’, to the point where [they’re using] foodbanks, they’re relying on schools, and relying on handouts. With the lack of funding from the government, it does seem like [the government] does want to leave the North behind”.

When asked whether the Government’s multi-billion-pound funding packages, aimed to support families and businesses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, had been felt by residents in the area, Paul responded:

“No, especially not in Knowsley [Merseyside], where we work, which is the second most deprived borough in the country. There’s families and neighbourhoods there that have been crippled by this, and it’s only going to get worse. That’s what they [the residents] are telling me, and we’ve got to support them. We’re only a small organisation, and we’re having to pay for therapy for families because it’s getting that bad now. Mental health has gone through the roof".

The report's analysis showed that child poverty, including fuel poverty and food insecurity, is higher in the North compared to the rest of England. For many families the current economic chaos will deepen an enduring child poverty crisis in the region.

Report findings:

• During the pandemic, 34% of children in the North (around 900,000) were living in poverty, compared with 28% in the rest of England. This equates to 160,000 extra children in poverty in the North
• Before the current crisis, around one million households in the North were fuel poor, proportionally more households than in the rest of England – 15% in the North compared to 12%
• In the North, the standing charge for energy prepayment meter customers in Yorkshire and the North East is higher (at around £3.80 per week) than the UK average (of £3.60 per week)
• 23% of children in England who are food insecure miss out on free school meals
• Families in the North are more likely to be living in poor quality, damp homes. Before living costs started to rise, over 98,500 homes in the North already had some form of damp and 1.1 million homes in the North failed 'decent homes' criteria

David Taylor Robinson, Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, and co-author of the report, said:

“Poverty is the key driver of inequalities between children in the North and the rest of the country, which we know leads to worse physical and mental health, poorer educational attainment and life chances.

All children, no matter where they are born, should be entitled to the same life chances. However, we know this sadly isn’t the case. The pandemic contributed to widening inequalities and now the rising cost of living will place further strain on families with children.

Parents across the North are having to go without meals to feed their children, and the situation will only get worse unless policies are put in place to ensure families have enough support to keep their children fed and warm.”

A suite of recommendations to government have been laid out by the report authors to ensure families with children have enough money and security of income to meet basic needs, such as healthy food to eat and warm homes.

Recommendations include:

• Increase benefits in line with inflation at the earliest opportunity and commit to ensure that benefits rise in a timely way in line with inflation long-term
• Immediately pause the Universal Credit five-week minimum wait, sanctions and deductions for families for the next six months when this can be reviewed
• Consult on wider reforms to the social security system in order to invest in the reduction of child poverty, including: increasing child benefit by up £20/week; increasing the child element of universal credit; suspending the two child limit
• Expand Free School Meals (FSMs) to all children whose families are in receipt of universal credit, as the simplest and most effective way of reaching all children affected by poverty and food insecurity, with an ambition of achieving FSMs for all primary pupils
• Support food provisioning for children under school age by expending the Healthy Start Scheme to all families on universal credit and commit to increase the value in line with inflation
• Ensure consistent support so that children do not go hungry during school holidays.
• Extend financial support beyond the current social security system to groups most in need, especially carers, those dependent on essential powered medical equipment, and low income households not in receipt of means-tested benefits
• Introduce specific financial support for families using prepayment meters (including action by Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the energy regulator on standing charges and energy debt) and suspend prepayment meter installations over the winter
• Consult on the introduction of a mandatory social tariff to guarantee an affordable price of energy for fuel poor and vulnerable households
• Prioritise action to improve the energy efficiency of homes, including social housing and the private rental sector
• Immediately resolve data-sharing issues between the Department for Work and Pensions, NHS Business Authority and Department of Health and Social Care and use existing data to auto-enrol all eligible families on the Healthy Start Scheme
• Use existing data to auto-enrol all eligible pupils for FSMs (rather than relying on families, schools and local authorities to do this)
• Ensure that existing data can be disaggregated by region and that ethnicity is included in all national data collection systems
• Ensure that there is a joined-up and place-based approach within national government to address child poverty and the cost of living crisis
• Prioritise the development of an integrated health inequalities strategy as part of ‘levelling up’, with an explicit focus on children and addressing child poverty, and including action to ‘poverty-proof’ schools

About the Child in the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)

The group brings together key sector organisations and MPs from across the political spectrum. Our purpose is to create a fairer future for children across the North of England and develop policy solutions that will tackle the stark inequalities across our region so we can enable the children of the North to fulfil their potential.

The Child of the North APPG holds regular meetings with its members to discuss issues regarding children in the North. It aims to develop policy solutions that will create lasting change. The Child of the North also provides a platform for people with direct experience of poverty to engage with parliamentarians and key sector stakeholders and help inform the political dialogue surrounding the issues that face children in the North.


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