A report published three days ago has highlighted the harsh reality for children growing up in a post-pandemic world in the North of England.
The report published by the Northern Healthcare Alliance and N8 Research Partnership emphasizes that the average child of the North is disadvantaged from the start of life.
Children in the North are not only more likely to live in poverty, but will be more likely to be obese, to be lonelier and are more likely to be in care than the rest of England.
The report also found that 68% of the most deprived neighbourhoods are the most ethnically diverse.
The report says that racism shapes the lives of children from ethnic minorities and that while material deprivation is a key driver for poor health, it is itself rooted in systematic racism.
A large amount of evidence suggests the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing ethnic inequalities.
However, there is a concern that the push for quick pandemic recovery solutions will result in the further dilution of attention to ethnic diversity, disadvantage, and discrimination.
Research including South Asian parents in the North found considerable energy being devoted to both monitoring children’s exposure to and supporting their ability to weather the impact of racism within schools and neighbourhoods.
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.”
Research published earlier this year by the Department for Work and Pensions found Bradford had the highest number of children living in poverty across Yorkshire. The report that 48,100 children aged under 16 were living in families with low incomes in 2019-20, an estimated 38% of all young people in the district. This is in stark comparison to the national average of around 15.3%.
Children in the North are more likely to grow up in poverty, in disordered families, are more likely to be less active and eat worse food. The report states that it is “crystal clear” that the pandemic has worsened these already poor outcomes further.”
Although the full impact is not yet known, modelling suggests that, without intervention, the outlook is bleak.
Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York and co-lead author of the report Kate Pickett 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.”
Children in the North of England spent more time in lockdown than those elsewhere, which the report says, their education and very often their mental health suffered.
The report speaks of the “toxic stress” of poor parental neglect that negatively influences a person’s health and wellbeing across their life.
From a high in the late 1990s, child poverty rates declined and by 2008, Yorkshire and Humber had rates similar to the UK average. However, from 2014, child poverty began to rise, and much faster in all Northern regions than in the UK.
Now, nearly a third of children in the north live in poverty, with 60% of local authorities in Northern regions having above-average levels of children in low-income families.
Austerity measures hit children in the North disproportionately, with deeper cuts to children’s services than the rest of the country. The impact of Northern deprivation is writ large in the statistics.
Children under the age of one die at a higher rate in the North than in the rest of England. Child poverty has long-term effects on children’s development, health and wellbeing and the anticipated pandemic-related increase in child poverty are deeply worrying.
The rise in mental health issues in the North throughout the pandemic is of particular concern to the researchers. Untreated mental health disorders in children and adolescents are linked to poor academic outcomes and poor health, including drug abuse, self-harm, and suicidal behaviour.
They often persist into adulthood and can have substantial socio-economic consequences. The mental health of children and adolescents was deteriorating before Covid-19, but there was significant deterioration during the pandemic, particularly in the North of England, the report mentioned.
Professor Clare Bambra said: “For too long, a lack of investment in key services in the North has meant that our children have suffered disproportionately.
“They are more likely to suffer ill health, to have lower educational attainment, and to live in care or poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened these inequalities and it will cast a long shadow across generations unless we act now.”
To address the North-South productivity gap, the report suggests that a child-first place-based recovery plan must be put in place to enable children living in the north to reach their full potential.