In 2022, MPs in the world’s fifth richest economy should not need to talk about child poverty or regional inequalities, yet sadly, too many of my constituents, and people living across the whole of the north of England, face very real issues. Inequality directly impacts our children, cutting their opportunities, health and even their life expectancy. Yesterday, I led a Westminster Hall debate, to focus Parliament’s attention on the growing crisis, with a call for urgent action.

The Child of the North report published earlier this year by NHSA, a group of academics and health specialists, found that inequality and low living standards are deepening across the region. The figures are stark. Nearly a third of children in the north now live in poverty – and 60% of our councils have above-average numbers of children living in low-income homes.

The report also found that children across our region spent more time in lockdown than their peers in the rest of England, they are more likely to grow up in care, and our children are less prepared when they start school than those in the rest of England. We see higher levels of poverty and infant mortality, poorer educational attainment, lower life expectancy and worse mental health outcomes in children and adults.

And Covid-19 has deepened the crisis, with our region subjected to longer lockdowns, higher levels of infection, and, sadly, a higher number of deaths. I agree with the NHSA that without intervention the outlook for our region is bleak.

There are people on the ground across my constituency – Blaydon – taking positive steps to make things better. Organisations like Gateshead foodbank in Blaydon and Birtley; the Blaydon Community Larder; the Gateshead West pre-loved school uniform scheme; The Winlaton Centre; The Bank in Chopwell; Birtley Hub and so many other groups right across Blaydon constituency are taking action. But it shouldn’t have to be like this.

The most recent data from the North East Child Poverty Commission, shows the North East had the UK’s second highest rate of child poverty with an average of 37% of all babies, children and young people in our region growing up poor, compared with a UK-wide average of 31%. We also saw the steepest growth in child poverty in the six years leading into the pandemic, rising from 26% to 37% – compared with a UK-wide rise of 2 per cent in the same period.

The North East has also experienced the steepest increase in the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) of anywhere in England during the pandemic – having already had the highest proportion of pupils eligible for FSM before hand.

And poverty is hitting many working families, too. The TUC found that 108,775 of the children living in poverty in the North East come from homes with at least one parent or carer in work – an increase of 52% in the number since 2010. So, its not about parents who refuse to work, but rather a lack of secure, well-paid jobs in our region.

Yet in recent months we’ve seen action from this government that will only level down the life chances of our children. The removal of £20 per week from universal credit is already hurting and next month the government will implement the largest increase in taxation since the 1950s, at a time when inflation and household bills are soaring. Our communities face a gruelling period in the months ahead.

Yesterday I called on the government to establish an urgent, cross-departmental child strategy. The government must act now to reverse the regional trends. That means an increase in child benefit by at least £10 per child, per week, and lifting the two-child limit and benefit cap. They must reverse the £20 cut to Universal Credit, too.

Ten years of Tory austerity saw Labour’s highly effective Sure Start programme slashed. Johnson’s government must now reverse those cuts, with investment in long-term, transformative services that children, young people and families use, such as family and community hubs. This government talks the talk on levelling up, but the reality is poverty in the north is going up. It’s time for Johnson’s lot to walk the walk.