The leader of Sunderland City Council has slammed the Government for its ‘failure to tackle child poverty’, after research revealed that the North East has the highest rate of early childhood poverty in the UK.

The latest ‘Changing patterns of poverty in early childhood’ review, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines patterns in poverty for UK under-fives over the last twenty years, drawing on over 100 research studies and reputable sources.

The research found that – while child poverty rates have fluctuated since 2000 – there has been a sustained increase since 2013/14, with families in the North East experiencing the steepest rise (46%), ahead of London (41%) and the rest of the UK.

Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland Labour Group and the City Council, said: “The report by Nuffield makes for deeply unpleasant reading and shows just how shallow the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda is.

“While rates of early childhood poverty in the South East and South West continue to stabilise – and in some instances even fall – densely populated and working-class areas such as the North East continue to bear the brunt of the Tories’ policies.  As the rich get richer, the poor continue to get poorer and it is a travesty that this could lead to a ‘lost generation’ of young people who are left behind and let down by this Government.

“Add to that the Government’s decision to cut the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and its decision to increase National Insurance, and the stark reality is that it will be difficult to turn around the fortunes of a generation of young people who are being failed by a Conservative Government that seems to be doing everything in its power to widen the rich/ poor divide.”

The review also explored the evidence of the impact of child poverty in the first few years of life, with the research revealing that childhood poverty can significantly affect children’s cognitive skills and physical, social and emotional development throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Cllr Miller added: “The research shows that the most significant fall in child poverty was between 1997/98 and 2004/05, largely reflecting increased spending on cash benefits and tax credits by the Labour Government, and is exactly why the Universal Credit cuts have been so cruel.

“For the millions of families relying on Universal Credit across the UK, the cancelling of the uplift will be the difference between buying a winter coat for their young ones or making them breakfast during the winter months, and areas such as the North East – once again, it seems – will be hit the hardest.”

Carey Oppenheim, Early Childhood Lead at the Nuffield Foundation and author of the report, said: “The increase in poverty for families with children under five is stark and has both short- and long-term implications for children’s development and future. Addressing early childhood poverty requires an approach that provides a financial bedrock for families with young children through improved social security benefits and access to employment, as well as policies that support parental mental health and parenting from the earliest stage of a child’s life.

“Even with those measures, it will be difficult to sustain reductions in child poverty unless we also address longer-term changes in society that are contributing factors to child poverty, such as insecure and low-paid work, access to affordable and secure housing and high-quality early education.”