Life in one of Newcastle’s poorest areas – where almost 50% of children live in poverty

Paralyzing debt and parents skipping meals to feed their children.

This is the reality of some people living in the poorest neighborhoods in the North East, according to the people who live and work there.

This week, research conducted by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition found that almost half of children in parts of Newcastle live in poverty.

Within the parliamentary constituency of Newcastle Central, which includes areas such as Kenton, Benwell, Scottish, Arthur’s hill and Elswick, 45.4% of children lived in poverty.

And now people living and working in these areas have explained what it is like in an area which has one of the highest child poverty rates in the UK.

John McCorry, CEO of West End Foodbank, on Benwell Lane, said: “Many of the people who have been pushed into further deprivation and hardship are people with young families.

“It is a statistical fact that people with young families struggle in places hardest hit by deprivation and children suffer.”

He added: “People who come to food Bank suffer because of their low income and are struggling with debt because of it. We often hear that parents deprive themselves of it to feed their children. “

John McCorry, CEO of West End Food Bank in Newcastle

Research for the End Child Poverty Coalition analyzed five-year numbers from 2014/15 to 2019/20 and found that child poverty rates in the region have increased by more than a third.

The figures rose from 26% to 37% over this period after taking into account housing costs, fueled by stagnant wages.

The report is based on the “relative poverty” rates of government The figures.

It publishes an annual survey of income poverty in the UK called Households Below Average Income (HBAI), which sets the UK relative poverty line at 60% of median UK household income.

However, the government believes that “absolute poverty” is a better measure of standard of living.

They say the “absolute poverty” line is fixed in real terms, and therefore provides a better measure of how the incomes of lower incomes compare to changes in the cost of living.

And “absolute poverty” will only increase if low-income households are financially poorer, while “relative poverty” may increase even if the incomes of low-income households increase.

They added that between 07 / 08-09 / 10 and 17 / 18-19 / 20, “absolute child poverty”, after housing costs, fell in the northeast from 32% to 30 %.

But many people in the worst-affected areas fear the impact of the pandemic will see child poverty numbers rise further, as the number of people with access to food banks and community support has increased over the course of the year. the last year.

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Elgan John helped set up self-help groups in Arthur’s Hill and Elswick during the first lockdown, which helped hundreds with food, finance and technology in the area.

And like John, he has found that many of the people in need of support in Newcastle Central are young families, as well as the elderly.

He said: “The numbers [from the report] are shocking because it shouldn’t be necessary for someone to live in poverty, but in reality I’m not shocked because it is what we see and what we know. “

Over the past year, Arthur’s Hill and Elswick Mutual Aid have provided more than 100 laptops and tablets to children to help them home schooling, as well as cell phones for adults who need them.

They have provided £ 17,000 in support grants through the Solidarity Fund, which allows locals to apply for aid of £ 30 per month, to help cover things such as bills.

The group also feeds more than 200 people a week with food packages, using food provided by FareShare and Magic Hat, charities that help reduce food waste by distributing excess food.

Arthur’s Hill and Elswick Mutual Aid also operate two community pantries, which are housed in telephone booths located on Brighton Grove and West Road.

The phone booths are stocked with food from volunteers and the wider community and can be accessed by anyone when they need it.

A community pantry inside a BT phone booth in Brighton Grove run by members of the Arthur's Hill & Elswick mutual aid group which BT is considering removing.  L / R Noreen Masud, Matthijs Vanderwild, Niko Sarcevic, Mwenza Dlell, Elgan John, Armajau Abubakar and Sherene Meir.
A community pantry inside a BT phone booth in Brighton Grove run by members of the Arthur’s Hill & Elswick mutual aid group which BT is considering removing. L / R Noreen Masud, Matthijs Vanderwild, Niko Sarcevic, Mwenza Dlell, Elgan John, Armajau Abubakar and Sherene Meir.

And they are currently looking to start a more permanent organization to help people in the area.

Elgan added: “It can seem outrageous and dehumanizing to ask for help and the way some people engage with people in poverty is quite shocking.

“I was shocked to learn how a woman who came to us in poverty saw her skills as a mother called into question, when it was abundantly clear to me that her situation had nothing to do with it. with her skills as a mother.

“We need to stop categorizing poverty as something that a person does wrong.”

In Kenton, union adviser Stephen Lambert said he was aware of the extent of child and household poverty in central Newcastle.

But he was “stunned and deeply shocked” to see the increase in numbers in the End Child Poverty Coalition report.

Councilor Lambert said: “It is the sixth richest country in the Western world, but we still accept levels of child poverty at an unacceptable level.

“It is morally and ethically wrong and we need the central government to solve this problem.”

Councilor Lambert, a former lecturer in social policy and social sciences, wants a reform of the social security system.

He would like the reform to include the temporary increase in universal credit of £ 20 per week permanently imposed and for family allowances to be increased.

The Lambert Council added: “Child poverty has a huge impact on educative success, as well as poor health.

“And it’s not just the young people affected by poverty, it’s also a significant number of older people, especially women.”

Throughout the pandemic, Earl Lambert has raised funds to support the Kenton Food Bank, which opened just weeks before the first lockdown due to concerns about poverty in the region.

He helped renew a social rights project in Kenton, based at the Kenton Neighborhood Center, which provides advice to people on the use of benefits.

And he worked with Kenton School to “poverty proof” school and support students with things like laptops and free school meals during the pandemic.

But while he admits that local advisers working with community projects can play a key role in the fight against child poverty, he explains that these measures are “sticky casts” and that more needs to be done to tackle them. to the problem.

Councilor Lambert said: “The UK social security system is no longer fit for purpose and needs reform. We need a more compassionate and socially just security system to meet people’s needs .

“It is obsolete and it is no longer appropriate to meet the needs of a rapidly changing economy, with the increase in low paid work, zero hour contracts and labor flexibility.”

A government spokesperson said: “The latest figures show that the number of children living in absolute poverty has declined by 300,000 since 2010.

“We are committed to supporting families most in need, spending billions more on social assistance and planning a long-term exit from poverty by protecting jobs through time off and helping people find a new job.” employment through our Employment Plan.

‘We have also introduced our £ 269million Covid Local Support Grant to help children and families stay warm and well nourished throughout the pandemic. “

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