Anne Longfield OBE addressed the Work and Pensions Committee today in a discussion on the issue of child poverty, calling for a framework of measures which would put "the needs of children at its heart" in order to tackle rates of young people living in disadvantage or abject poverty.
Figures published last week revealed that a third of Yorkshire's children were living in poverty to some extent – a rise of nearly six per cent in the past five years.
Leaders including Ms Longfield, who was England's Children's Commissioner until February this year, and Scotland Children's Commissioner Bruce Adamson faced questions from a panel hosted by Stephen Timms this morning (Wednesday).
Ms Longfield, who is originally from Otley and resides in Ilkley, told the panel that the pandemic had highlighted growing gaps in society.
"The education evidence is very clear," she said.
"Those that are living in poverty and at disadvantage are much less likely to achieve academically at various points we measure as they go into school."
She added that 45 per cent of children on free school meals would not reach all their development goals they would expect to have reached by the age of 16, quoting evidence from the Education Policy Institute that disadvantaged children were on average 18 months behind their peers at school, while those living in persistent poverty were 22 months behind.
"The clues are all here for us to see, but it requires that proactive will to take action, and some of the building blocks are already in place.
"People shouldn't say this is just an insurmountable mountain that has to be started at the bottom, there's very much a foundation set to build upon. But the will and determination to make this a top priority publicly and politically is the thing we really need to see."
Asked whether she thought poverty was "inevitable", Ms Longfield added: "I don't think so, but I do think not only you can do something about it but you have a moral and economic responsibility to do something about it."
She also told the panel she was concerned "we've had a decade of talking about defining measurements" of child poverty, saying, "I think we know enough to know that this is a priority and actually measurements need to become a second order to the strategy.
"We know there are other priorities here which are central to the issue – levelling up being the issue I'm talking about.
"I don't believe you can level up without addressing child poverty.
"I also believe that at every level of government, but also in the locality, everyone needs to understand what action they can take to address that.
"Ultimately, it comes down to what we want as a society, and I believe that actually, most people want a society where as many people as possible can thrive."
A Government spokesperson said: “Latest figures show that the number of children in absolute poverty has fallen by 300,000 since 2010.
“We are committed to supporting families most in need, spending billions more on welfare and planning a long-term route out of poverty by protecting jobs through furlough and helping people find new work through our Plan for Jobs. We also introduced our £269 million Covid Local Support Grant to help children and families stay warm and well-fed throughout the pandemic.”
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