This blog has been published as part of the Children, young people and families newsletter
“The Child of the North is not one child but many and each of their experiences is unique. They are brought up in different places, educated in many different ways and go on to live very different lives. There is no one experience which speaks to every child across the region, but there is an overall picture painted of inequality between children in the North and the rest of the country.”
So wrote former child of the North, poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay in his foreword to our first report. It was this recognition, that children in the North grow up in unequal circumstances to those in the rest of England, which led to the formation of Child of the North as a partnership of the N8 Research Group and Health Equity North, which cover the research-intensive universities and NHS hospital trusts across the North of England.
The report was published in November 2021, to a huge amount of attention and launched in parliament in March 2022. It was clear there was a demand from the public, politicians and the policy world at large to understand where we’ve gone wrong around delivering for children across the North of England. In the aftermath of the pandemic, it was received by a readership shocked at the universally worse prospects for children across poverty, health, nutrition, mental health, children in care and many more outcomes.
A stark picture was painted of rising inequality and poverty in the North. Children in the North were more likely to be obese, have a 27% chance of living in poverty compared to 20% in the rest of England, a 58% chance of living in a local authority with above average levels of low-income families, compared to 19% in the rest of England. They missed more schooling in lockdown than their peers elsewhere in England and 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.
Child of the North immediately made clear that policy decisions by government had directly impacted the rise in child poverty, poor child health and poorer educational outcomes.
To look at this we set up an All Party Parliamentary Group as a place MPs could come together with academics and look at specific problems faced by children in the region, hold evidence sessions hearing from young people and academics and deliver further reports with evidence-based policy recommendations.
In January, our Child of the North and the Cost of Living Crisis report, showed that ahead of the cost of living crisis around one million households in the North were fuel poor, 5% in the North compared to 12% elsewhere in England and shockingly in the North, the standing charge for energy prepayment meter customers in Yorkshire and the North East was higher (at around £3.80 per week) than the UK average (of £3.60 per week). It also found 23% of children in England who are food insecure miss out on free school meals.
And on the 11th September, following another evidence session on educational inequalities and health we found in the Child of the North: Addressing Education and Health Inequality report that schools in London received an average of £6,610 per pupil compared to £6,225, £5,956, and £5,938 in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber, respectively.
Children in the most affluent schools in the country had bigger real term increases in funding than those in the most deprived ones, despite the increased burden placed on these schools due to wider societal issues that impact the families they serve.
This inequity corresponds with children in the North having higher school absences, including health and mental health absences, and educational performance is poorer.
Importantly, every one of our reports has brought in recommendations across public health, education and social care which can make a real difference in improving children’s life chances.
Child of the North shows the power of bringing together a united group of researchers with the collective skills and ambition to make a difference through evidence-based research and solutions.
We’ll be continuing that work with our colleagues across charities, healthcare, education and government as long as these inequalities persist.