The Bishop of Durham spoke in a debate on vulnerable teenagers on 26th January 2023, emphasising the negative effects of child poverty on later life:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McConnell; I associate myself with everything he said, particularly about adopting the recommendations. He also reminded us that this is no new problem. He talked about his experience in the 1980s; I could do the same from when I was doing youth work. You can also quote Greek writers and philosophers about the problems of young people in the era of the Greeks, so this is something we have always lived with.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for securing this debate. It is always lovely to share something with someone else from this part of the north-east of England. I congratulate Anne Longfield on the report, Hidden in Plain Sight. As the Commission on Young Lives’ report demonstrates, young people falling vulnerable to violence and exploitation and entering the criminal justice system is not an issue that is shrinking, nor one that could possibly be ignored.
The effects of this problem are widespread, impacting not only the lives and futures of the young people themselves but the prosperity and security of our whole country. Such an issue cannot be resolved through sticking plasters or short-term solutions; it is instead vital that we examine and address the root causes and respond with long-term solutions.
As the report states,
“it is impossible to overestimate how important poverty is as a driver for so many of the social problems ruining and holding back lives.”
The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on 23rd January 2023:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of an increase in the number of pupils who are ineligible for free school meals being unable to afford lunch.
The Bishop of Durham received the following written answers of 19th December 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Durham asked His Majesty’s Government:
further to the Department for Work and Pensions annual official statistics ‘Children in low income families: local area statistics 2014 to 2021’, what assessment they have made of the reasons for the increase in (1) the number of, and (2) the proportion of, children living in relative poverty in every local authority area of the North East between 2014/15 and 2020/21.
further to the Department for Work and Pensions official statistics ‘Children in low income families: local area statistics 2014 to 2021’, what assessment they have made of the reasons for the increase in (1) the number of, and (2) the proportion of, children living in absolute poverty in every local authority area of the North East in every year since 2017/18.
what recent discussions have taken place between the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on child poverty.
On 20th October 2022, the Bishop of Oxford spoke about child poverty during a debate on the cost of living and public wellbeing:
My Lords, I welcome this moving and timely debate and the opportunity to highlight the consequences of the rising cost of living and its impact on well-being. I particularly want to focus on the well-being of children.
Psalm 41 begins with the words, “Blessed are those who consider the poor”—a reminder, if we need one, that the well-being of the whole nation is enhanced or diminished by the way we respond to those most in need. This insight is shared by all the great faith traditions.
So let us consider the poor, especially children caught in poverty and the impact of that on their well-being. The Children’s Society published its Good Childhood Report a few weeks ago. The stats have been quoted already. Some 85% of parents and carers are concerned about how the cost of living crisis will affect their families; that is nearly everybody. A third of families reported that they are already struggling with the costs of school trips and uniforms over the next year. A recent Action for Children survey report found that nearly half of children worry about their family finances—but, of course, many children’s needs are much more basic.
The Archbishop of York asked a question about benefits rising with inflation on 19th October 2022, during a debate following a statement on the economy:
The Lord Archbishop of York: My Lords, I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of exactly where we find ourselves but I serve communities in the north. I think particularly of people I have met recently in Middlesbrough and Hull, where there were great hopes for levelling up. It now seems a distant dream. I recently visited a school where children go in the morning with an empty lunch box for them to fill up with food from the food bank in the playground at the end of the day. The budget for school meals has gone up by 2% yet food inflation has gone up by more than 10%. We need to make tough decisions—I am glad to hear that the triple lock will remain in place—but, on behalf of the communities where I serve, I must ask this: will benefits rise in line with inflation? If not, millions of people will be moved into poverty. Those who recently donated to food banks are now visiting them themselves.
On 8th September 2022, the Bishop of Durham spoke in a debate on the attainment gap in exam results, regarding children in North East England:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I begin by expressing, on behalf of these Benches, our concern for Her Majesty, and the assurance of our thoughts and prayers for her and the Royal Family.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for securing this debate and pay tribute to the way she has stood up for the young people of the north-east throughout her distinguished career. I declare my interests as chair of the National Society and the Durham Diocesan Board of Finance.
I begin by celebrating the success of our young people and their teachers, particularly those of the north-east, in the recent A-level and GCSE examination results in both schools and further education colleges. However, we cannot hide away from the gap between the north and the south of England—the stats have already been quoted, so I will not repeat them. The most recent figures continue to show that disadvantaged communities in the north continue to be hit hardest by the Covid pandemic and its impact on learning. Poverty is in every north-east postcode and is set to worsen. Headlines include, for example:
“In 2020/21, the North East overtook London to have the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, at 38%”.
The Bishop of Gloucester received the following written answer on 11th July 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester asked Her Majesty’s Government what recent estimate they have made of the number of children in England who are eligible for income-related free school meals but are not registered for the scheme.
On 8th July 2022 the Bishop of Durham brought forward his Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill, to be debated in the House of Lords. His speech introducing this Second Reading debate is below, followed by those of other Peers and the Government Minister responding:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I am glad to bring before you this Bill, which would abolish the two-child limit to universal credit. In doing so, I declare my interest as patron of the North East Child Poverty Commission.
When this policy was originally debated, I made it clear that we would seek to hold the Government to account for its impact. Working with others, including the Child Poverty Action Group, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and many others, I have sought to do this. Before the policy was rolled out, its impacts were predicted—notably, that many children would pay the price. They are, with more families affected every year.
In the House of Lords on 14th January 2021 the Bishop of St Albans received written answers to questions on vaccines for developing countries and the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia while the Bishop of Durham received answers to questions on the recent updated report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England on Poverty in the pandemic.
Meanwhile in the Chamber, the Bishop of Birmingham raised the issue of devolution in England with the Government during Lord Young’s Oral question about the formation of a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission. Text below:
On 17th December the Bishop of Durham asked a question in the |Lords during exchanges on the Office for National Statistics latest findings on life expectancy:
The Lord Bishop of Durham [V]: Given the ONS recent findings that the lowest regional life expectancy for both male and female children at birth in 2017-19 was observed in my area of the north-east of England, when will Her Majesty’s Government commit to a full-blown strategy to eliminate the obstacles disproportionately facing children in poverty here in the north-east?