Newcastle council chiefs pledge to tackle ‘shameful’ city child poverty but vote down school uniform plea

Council promises action over ‘shameful’ Newcastle child poverty, but rejects school uniform plea.

Council chiefs in Newcastle have promised action to combat “shameful” child poverty rates in the city.

The North East was recently named as England’s new deprivation capital, overtaking London, with 38% of youngsters growing up below the poverty line in the region and 42% in Newcastle.

Leaders have now promised a new anti-poverty strategy for the city in a bid to reduce the scale of child poverty on Tyneside, described by a top councillor as “truly outrageous”.

Sylvia Copley, Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for children, called last week for a united front across the city to take “every possible action to end the impact of poverty on all children”.

However, Labour councillors voted down a Lib Dem proposal to set up a commission tasked with cutting the cost of sending children to school.

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Coun Copley told last week’s full council meeting that she feared poverty could become the norm. The Labour councillor added: “Despite our best efforts in the city with extremely limited and sometimes reducing resources, the cost of living crisis is escalating and based on what we have seen from the government over the last 12 years I am truly worried about how they will respond to help people cope as more are pushed into poverty through escalating household costs and possible job losses as businesses go to the wall.”

Liberal Democrat Christine Morrissey had urged the council to establish a Newcastle Poverty Commission tasked with “poverty proofing” the school day – including reducing the need for parents to buy uniforms with sewn-own school badges, implementing a no uniform policy for PE lessons, and setting up shops for ‘pre-loved’ schoolwear.

The opposition party also criticised an alleged lack of urgency around a recent council launch of an eight-year plan for young people, entitled Evry, with deputy leader Colin Ferguson saying that child poverty was “happening now, not in eight years’ time”.

However, Labour council leader Nick Kemp replied that the Evry project, whose partners include Newcastle University and the Newcastle United Foundation, was effectively doing the job of the commission put forward by the Lib Dems.

He insisted that the plan was there to provide “continued intervention” throughout a child’s life, and denied that it would not address immediate concerns.

Coun Copley said she could not support the Lib Dem idea as “we have gone past the time for talk, gone past the time for commissions”, though Coun Morrissey called on the council to make Evry’s work more clear to the public.

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National child poverty in the UK fell to its lowest level in seven years in the first year of the pandemic, according to figures released by the End Child Poverty Coalition in July, but has rocketed from 26% to 38% in our region between 2014 and 2021.

Newcastle has seen the biggest increase in children growing up poor of anywhere in the UK over the last seven years, up from 28.4% in 2014/5 to 42.4% in 2020/21.