Child poverty could become biggest threat to Yorkshire's economic prospects - Greg Wright
The revelation that babies are being admitted to hospital with hypothermia in York shows the horrific scale of child poverty in our county. According to Emma Lewell-Buck MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Child of the North, the scale and severity of deprivation is unprecedented. But how do we tackle this problem at source? A study has found that many health visitors fear that wellbeing threats faced by children will not be addressed, even if they raise the alarm. Only 7 per cent of health visitors felt confident that all families would be able to access the support they need if an issue was raised. And 86 per cent said there was not enough capacity in other services to pick up referrals for support or treatment, according to a survey of 1,300 health visitors from across the UK.
The Institute for Health Visiting (IHV) said that health visitors are sometimes the only professionals who can spot issues hidden behind front doors. It warned there is a “tsunami of unmet need” which is undermining the life chances for many children. Public health expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot said the cost of living crisis in the UK was a “human catastrophe”.
He told LBC’s Tonight show with Andrew Marr: “One in four households with children were in food insecurity, that means missing meals, not eating when you’re hungry.. It will damage physical health, and it will damage mental health.”
Responding to the IHV report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government recognised the burden of the cost-of-living and is providing a range of support.
The statement added: “We are modernising the Healthy Child programme and are investing approximately £300m to create new family hubs in 75 local authorities to ensure parents and carers can access the support to give children a healthy start in life.”
A Government spokesperson has also stated that there are 200,000 fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs compared to 2019/20. As well as increasing benefits in line with inflation from April, the spokesman said the Government will be sending up to £1,350 directly to millions of families throughout 2023/24, building on the £1,200 given to those in most in need this financial year.
The costs to society and the UK’s economy of rising inequality were also outlined in The Child of the North: Building a fairer future after COVID-19 report, which was produced by the Northern Health Science Alliance and N8 Research Partnership. The report found that children in the North have a 27 per cent chance of living in poverty compared to 20 per cent in the rest of England.
Time is of the essence. In addition to its current support packages, the Government should consider further rapid, focused investment in early years services, which should include hiring more health visitors and establishing children’s centres in areas of greatest need. A child placed at risk in its earliest years is less likely to flourish at school and work. Without decisive action, child poverty could become the biggest threat to Yorkshire's economic prospects.
Greg Wright is the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post