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It’s time to level up for every child

It’s time to level up for every child

22nd January 2022

It’s time to level up for every child.

The government is regularly promoting its levelling up agenda. For the levelling up agenda to truly succeed, it must level up for every child in the UK.

The JRF’s UK Poverty 2022 report released this week found that 1.8 million children were growing up in very deep poverty before the pandemic, with one in five children having lived on a low-income for at least three of the four years 2016-2019 (inclusive). For single parent families this rises to one in three children.

At TLG, we have seen families experiencing these challenges first hand. We also know, from our frontline work supporting children across the UK, that growing up in poverty can have a profound impact on a child’s life chances.

Children from a low-income background are more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to be further behind in their education and more likely to face physical and mental health problems both in childhood and later in life. This is currently having a direct levelling down impact on children across the UK and these patterns must be overturned if the country is to truly ‘level up’.

The JRF’s UK Poverty 2022 report also looked into how recent events will have further affected children and their families– including the increasing cost of energy. While we will all be looking closely at our energy bills and budgets, not everyone will be affected equally. The report found that low-income households spend 18% of their household income on energy bills on average, compared to 6% for middle-income households. For low-income, single-adult households, this could rise to as high as 54% by April, which is an increase of 21 percentage points since 2019/20. For these families, the rising costs risk escalating the proportion of their income spent on energy to unmanageable levels.

Earlier this week, the Resolution Foundation also published its research into the matter, highlighting how the percentage of British households experiencing ‘fuel stress’ (spending more than 10% of the household income on energy) will triple, to nearly a third of all British households.

This is not an equal crisis, with those already facing financial insecurity left even more at risk, further levelling down the country.

The JRF’s UK Poverty 2022 report also looks into how households who are in receipt of welfare will face additional budget squeezes, as benefits are set to rise by a previous forecast of inflation of 3.1%, rather than the updated forecast of 6%. This will leave families with an ever lower relative income to fend off the rise in living costs, as well as the catastrophic rise in energy costs.

Instead of levelling up, in many ways the country is actually levelling down.

This is why charities like TLG are stepping in across the UK to fill that gap, to ensure no family goes without during this increasingly challenging time. Our staff and volunteers are working harder than ever across our TLG Education Centres, TLG Early Intervention and TLG Make Lunch programmes to support families in local communities across the UK.

However, change is needed on a UK wide level. The government has to tackle the cost of living crisis, including acting to ensure welfare levels do properly reflect the current cost of living. The government must also put children at the heart of any discussions and decisions on the levelling up agenda.

It is critical the government’s levelling up agenda includes improving actual living standards for every single child in every household in every area of the UK. If the levelling up agenda is to succeed, it needs to have a visible heart of people at the centre of it and the levelling up of opportunity and support for children.

Beth Prescott

Beth Prescott

Before coming to TLG, Beth worked as a Fundraising Project Manager for poverty-relief charity Christians Against Poverty. Beth also has expansive experience in the political sector. Beth is a season ticket holder at Huddersfield Town and enjoys hiking through the Yorkshire countryside followed by a local ale in the pub.

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