University of York: Widening inequalities for children in the North of England cost billions, increase poverty and cost children’s lives

The considerable costs to society and the UK’s economy of rising inequality are outlined in The Child of the North: Building a fairer future after COVID-19 report.

The report, involving academics from the University of York and produced by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and N8 Research Partnership (N8), looks at a wide range of factors, from child poverty to children in care.

It sets out 18 recommendations that can be put in place to tackle the widening gap between the North and the rest of England.

It shows that:

Children in the North of England’s loss of learning, experienced over the course of the pandemic, will cost an estimated £24.6 billion in lost wages over lifetime earnings.
Children in the North are more likely to be obese than a child elsewhere in England. At Year 6 (age 11): 22.6 per cent in the North compared to 20.5 per cent in the rest of England.
Children in the North have a 27 per cent chance of living in poverty compared to 20 per cent in the rest of England.
They have a 58 per cent chance of living in a local authority with above average levels of low-income families, compared to 19 per cent in the rest of England.
Compared to children in England as a whole, they are more likely to die under the age of one.
They missed more schooling in lockdown than their peers elsewhere in England. Only 14 per cent received four or more pieces of offline schoolwork per day, compared with 20 per cent country-wide.
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 significantly more likely to be in care than those in the rest of England. Of the local authorities with more than 100 children per 10,000 in care, 21 of 26 are in the North.
Pupils in the North East and Yorkshire and Humber lost 4-5 times more learning in primary maths compared to areas in the South (4.0 and 5.3 months’ learning loss respectively, compared to less than a month in the South West and London).
During the pandemic children in the North were lonelier than children in the rest of England. 23 per cent of parents in the North reported that their child was ‘often’ lonely compared to 15 per cent in the rest of the country.
Their parents and carers were also more likely to have often been lonely during the first lockdown: 23 per cent in the North compared to 13 per cent in the rest of England.
Prior to the pandemic, the North saw much larger cuts to spending on Sure Start children’s centres. On average, spending was cut by £412 per eligible child in the North, compared to only £283 in the rest of England.
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.
Professor of Epidemiology, Kate Pickett from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, and co-lead author of the report said: “Levelling up for the North must be as much about building resilience and opportunities for the Covid generation and for future children as it is about building roads, railways and bridges. But the positive message of this report is that investment in children creates high returns and benefits for society as a whole.”

Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool and co-lead author of the report David Taylor Robinson said: “Children growing up in the North of England get a bad deal. Due to poverty and lack of investment, their outcomes are worse across the board – from risk of death in childhood, to obesity, mental health, and education, and the pandemic has made the situation worse. The stark inequalities exposed in our report are preventable and unfair. Levelling up must begin with better policies for children.”


Hannah Davies, Health Inequalities lead for the Northern Health Science Alliance and report co-author, said: “This new report illustrates in no uncertain terms that without significant, properly-funded measures to tackle the entrenched inequalities experienced by children in the North of England, from birth, there will be no levelling up in the country.”

Stephen Parkinson, of the N8 Research Partnership and report co-author, said: “If we fail to focus on children in the recovery, we risk burdening them with some of the most enduring consequences of the pandemic. As this report sets out, children growing up in the North have in many ways been disproportionately impacted, and we invite government at all levels to engage with our recommendations to secure the best possible future for them.”


Lemn Sissay OBE, Poet, Author and Chancellor of the University of Manchester, who wrote the foreword for The Child of the North report, 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 a set of recommendations to tackle the inequalities suffered by children over the course of the pandemic. They include increasing government investment in welfare, health and social care systems that support children’s health, particularly in deprived areas and areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also suggest tackling 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 – as supported in the Leadsom review – but with investment proportional to need and area-level deprivation adequately accounted for.