Catherine McKinnell, Member of Parliament for Newcastle North, has called on the Government to take action to give every child the best start in life in a Parliamentary debate she helped secure.

In her speech Catherine highlighted that “so many important life outcomes – from health to wealth and wellbeing – have their origins in early childhood. But the reality is that not all childhoods are equal. And if we truly want to give every child the best start in life, we must tackle poverty and economic disadvantage”, however, “sadly, child poverty is getting worse in this country”.

Catherine warned that the pandemic has further entrenched these issues. Highlighting the work of the Petitions Committee, which Catherine chairs, and its inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on parents and young children, Catherine commented that the report in July 2020 “highlighted the need for urgent ‘catch up’ investment to help new parents access support services disrupted by the pandemic, and to do more to ensure employers meet their health and safety duties towards pregnant women.

“Unfortunately, the Government rejected almost all our recommendations, arguing that support was “sufficiently generous” for “the vast majority of parents”. But that just didn’t match up with all the evidence we’ve heard about new parents’ struggles.”

Catherine concluded stating that “the crushing pressure that poverty places on families and children is clear. It impacts our children’s lives directly – when parents and carers don’t have enough money to meet their children’s material, social and educational needs. And it impacts on them indirectly, by creating stress, insecurity, and conflict at home. These adverse childhood experiences inevitably influence children’s development and well-being, creating a vicious cycle.

“To escape that cycle we need a coherent, cross-Departmental anti-child poverty strategy, backed by proper investment. I think it’s fair to say that we’re pretty far from that at the moment, when the Government often seems unsure even about which Minister to send to respond to debates on child poverty.

“But such pervasive child poverty is not inevitable – the last Labour Government reduced child poverty, and the concerns about child welfare it creates. We can do it again, and truly give every child the best start in life. We just need a Government that truly cares about achieving it.”