University of Leeds: Inequalities blighting children’s lives in the North

Children growing up in the North of England face greater poverty and are more likely to die before reaching their first birthday than children in other parts of England, according to a new report.

The study, the Child of the North: Building a fairer future after COVID-19, says nearly one third of children in the North live in poverty. Austerity measures introduced between 2010 and 2018 have impacted children in the North disproportionately, with deeper cuts to children’s services than the rest of England.

The infant mortality rate in the North, a measure of the number of children who die under the age of one, stood at 4.23 deaths per 1,000 live births in the period 2017 to 2019. The figure for England as a whole was 3.95 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Inequalities existed prior COVID-19 but the report says the pandemic has made the situation worse.

Inequality has been shown to be one of the most damaging things to society

Lemn Sissay OBE, poet and author
Data shows that children in the North were – in the words of the report – “…disproportionately affected by the consequences of the pandemic, experiencing mental health difficulties compared to children in the rest of England”. This seems to have been a particular difficulty faced by boys aged five to ten in all areas of the North and girls aged five to ten in Yorkshire and Humberside.

The report has been compiled by the Northern Health Sciences Alliance, and the N8 Research Partnership of research-intensive universities in the North, which includes the University of Leeds. The Child of the North study involved expert analysis from more than 40 leading academics and looked at how poverty and inequality is affecting children now – and into the future.

Legacy of inequality
Children in the North have lost more education due to the COVID-19 pandemic than their counterparts in other parts of the country. It is projected that the loss of education will hit their lifetime income as they move into work. Men in the North will lose an estimated 70% more in lifetime earnings than men living in the rest of England (£12,534 compared to £7,393). Women in the North will lose an estimated 69% more than women in other parts of the country (£9,314 compared to £5,513).

That equates to £24.6 billion in lost in wages in the North.

Mark Mon-Williams, Professor of Cognitive Psychology in the School of Psychology at Leeds and one of the report’s authors, said: “Inequalities between advantaged and disadvantaged communities existed before the pandemic started. But the gulf between the two groups has accelerated during the pandemic, and this is driving the profound inequalities between children growing up in the North and those in other parts of the England.

“The tragedy is that inequalities during childhood can have longterm consequences not only for individuals but for the economy in the North as a whole. We need to work with Government to look at how we connect the welfare, education, and social care system to help children survive and thrive.

“This has to be at the heart of policies to level up.”

The Child of the North study analysed a wide range of factors in the lives of children, from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on services for new and expectant mothers to children’s mental wellbeing; physical activity and diet – through to the experiences of children in care.

Key conclusions
The report made a number of key findings, including:

The mental health conditions that children in the North developed during the pandemic could cost an estimated £13.2 billion in lost wages over their working lives.
Children in the North are more likely to be obese than a child elsewhere in England. At Year 6 (age 11): 22.6% in the North compared to 20.5% in the rest of England.
The mental health conditions that children in the North developed during the pandemic could cost an estimated £13.2 billion in lost wages over their working lives.
More than one in five children in the North are from an ethnic minority. These children are more likely to live in a deprived area than children from an ethnic minority in the rest of England.

‘Damaging to society’
Lemn Sissay OBE, poet, author and Chancellor of the University of Manchester wrote the foreword for the report. He said: “Inequality has been shown to be one of the most damaging things to society. The Child of the North report is a call to government, to educators, to all of us who are participants in this society, of our duty to gift our children equality, no matter where they are born.”

The authors have put forward 18 key recommendations to tackle the inequalities suffered by children. They include:

Increase government investment in welfare, health and socpal care systems that support children’s health, particularly in deprived areas and areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tackle the negative impacts of the pandemic in the North through rapid, focussed investment in early years services, such as the Health Improvement Fund. This should include health visiting, family hubs and children’s centres.
Take immediate measures to tackle child poverty. Increase child benefit by £10 per child per week. Increase the child element in Universal Credit and increase child tax credits.
Introduce universal free school meals, make the Holiday Activities and Food Programme scheme permanent, and extend it to support all low-income families. Promote the provision of Healthy Start vouchers to all children under five and make current government food standards mandatory in all early years’ settings.

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