This week saw Courtney, an eight-year-old girl living on the Canterbury estate in Bradford on TV as part of the BBC's Poor Kids programme, looking at the issue of poverty from the perspective of a child. In previewing the programme, Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, writing in the Guardian quoted Courtney as saying:
Commenting on the state of the housing she lives in, Courtney continued: Tragic though Courtney's case is, it remains just the tip of a far too big an iceberg.
Across the UK, roughly 4 million children live in poverty; a figure which UNICEF argues puts the UK as having the 18th worst proportion of children in poverty within a list of 22 European counties. Across Northern England the situation is equally bleak.
In a recent study by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty campaign, of the 20 Parliamentary Constituencies with the largest proportion of children living in poverty, five are within the north. And to compound the problem, the inequalities between constituencies in each of the three northern regions remains startling.
In the North East, whilst Tyne Bridge has 39% of its children living in poverty, in Hexham the figure is as low as 9%. In the North West, Manchester Central has 52% of children in poverty – the third worst in the country, while over in Ribble Valley, home to Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans MP, the figure is 6%. And in Yorkshire and the Humber: Hilary Benn's Leeds Central seat has 41% of children growing up in poverty conditions, in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency, the figure is at 6%.
With such a problem on our doorstep, in April the Government published its Child Poverty Strategy with a pledge that it would bring 350,000 children out of poverty. In publishing the strategy, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith outlined how it seeks to bring together a number of departments to improve the life chances of children, touching on role that the benefits, education and health systems combined can and should play in combatting poverty.
It's an approach which enjoys the support of Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey. Speaking to the Northerner from personal experience he said:
"Child poverty is one of the most serious issues which we, as a nation, face today and we need to look beyond reforming the benefit system for ways in which to tackle this problem.
"Having grown up on council estate in a family with very little money, I understand that we need to provide the tools to help these children and their families to escape the poverty trap. We also need to look at how we make it financially worthwhile for people to go to work, improving education opportunities and looking at ways to reduce family breakdown.
All well and good it may sound. But consider the Institute for Fiscal Studies warning that contrary to the Government's belief, its cuts (or reforms as ministers might put it) to benefits and tax credits will see 300,000 more children falling below the poverty line. This would reverse progress made under the previous Government which saw rates of child poverty fall to a 25-year low in its final year.
Speaking to the Northerner, Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston in Greater Manchester, a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee and formerly Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action group explained: