In West Ham, we had the highest number of people furloughed in the country—almost 30,000. All of those people and so many more who are self-employed are potentially at risk of real economic hardship, and we simply do not know how many more will lose their work over the coming winter. The scope for damage to our already deprived and very vulnerable communities in Newham is vast.
As we know, there are differences in economies across the country. In my constituency, many parents work two or three jobs to pay their rent and their living costs. Let me tell Members quickly what it is like in Newham. The lowest quartile of private rent is higher than the lowest quartile of earnings. A month’s wages does not even cover the rent on its own. In many cases, if parents lose one source of income they will be under threat of homelessness and it will immediately mean cutting back on the things that children need and that parents want to provide, such as food, clothes, shoes for the winter, internet access and books. In this wealthy country of ours, losing that second or third job will leave parents with no choice but to cut back on food—first for themselves and then for their children. We know that when parents are pushed into poverty, the impacts can be lifelong on their children’s health, education and opportunity.
Last week, the End Child Poverty coalition estimated that almost 20,000 children were in poverty in West Ham alone—20,000 children! That is more than half the children in our local schools, and those numbers are from before the pandemic began. We have 20,000 children living in poverty in just one constituency. I worry about how bad this is going to get even if the Chancellor does not follow through with his threat to cut universal credit next year, and I hope to God he does not.
Around 575 school days have been lost since March. Only 8% of children with special educational needs and disabilities or under the protection of a social worker attended school during lockdown—8%! How can schools or local authorities identify the children who are at risk of abuse or neglect when they are not being seen? Self-isolation for covid is a really quick excuse that can be used for everything. Our services need to find new ways to proactively check children at risk and they need the resources to enable them to do that.
In my area, county lines see gangs grooming children with life-destroying consequences. This problem is now even more acute, because normally extended absences from schools are one of the clear signs that a child is being exploited to run drugs and put at risk of seeing and doing things that no young person should see or do. If preventative support is not given, it will create more damage in our communities and more costs for the public purse in the future, but most of all it will kill the hopes and the dreams of the children and the parents in deprived communities, cause much pain and waste so, so much potential.