Next Prime Minister should 'come and spend week living in Longbenton' says manager of poverty group

  • Video report by Tom Sheldrick

The next Prime Minister should "come and spend a week living in Longbenton" to understand regional inequalities.

That is according to the manager of a group working with families in poverty in North Tyneside.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will be in the North East on Tuesday 9 August, for a hustings event with Conservative party members in Darlington.

Their commitment to 'levelling up' the country will likely be questioned.

Denise Marshall, from Justice Prince Community Interest Company, told ITV News Tyne Tees that the next PM should spend time with families on North Tyneside "and recognise how they actually live day to day".

Her organisation is delivering a summer holiday scheme, offering free lunches and activities to low-income families, which is part-funded by the government.

Stevi Lee, who has an eight-year-old daughter named Alexis, and who is also pregnant, said: "I don't see anything levelling up - prices going up and money going down."

Sophie Watson, a mother of three daughters who was made redundant last September, said she could not afford to pay for days out, and so they normally do things "like going for a walk with a box of chalk".

She said her family would be better off if benefits were increased, and there were more schemes giving children different experiences and opportunities.

A recent study for End Child Poverty Coalition found 38% of children in the North East are living in poverty, compared to 27% across the UK as a whole. That is linked to wider challenges and inequalities. 

Economic output per person in the North East is 28% lower than the UK average.

Tees Components is a heavy engineering company in East Cleveland.

Managing Director Sharon Lane said better transport links and broadband could improve their productivity, but "a real skills shortage" is "the number one reason that businesses aren't growing as quickly as they could do".

The proportion of people in the North East with A-levels or equivalent qualifications is 6.9% lower than the UK average.Liam Short, who has just finished a Business Studies course at Hartlepool College and is now going to university in Preston, told us he doesn't think there are many high-paying jobs in and around Hartlepool.

Darren Hankey, principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, said they faced "headwinds" as students need support "for food, for transport, for equipment, rising mental health issues" and even involvement in the so-called 'county lines' drugs trade.

Men in the North East can expect to live in good health for three-and-a-half-years less than the UK average, while for women in the region healthy life expectancy is 4.2 years lower than the UK average.

Karen Slater, who is from Newcastle and was addicted to alcohol for 17 years, said: "I've still got lasting harm, so I have problems with my bowels, I have problems with my stomach, I still have anxiety and low self-esteem and I can be paranoid and full of fear."

Campaigners are calling for there to be minimum prices on alcohol, but say the issues are also wider.

Sue Taylor, from Balance - the North East alcohol programme - said: "Increasingly we are seeing people who are growing up in communities where they're starved of aspiration, and actually they might use alcohol, they might use drugs, they might use any other substances - but the key thing is to try to tackle the root causes of those issues.

"I think if the government is serious about levelling up then it does need to tackle the whole range of issues that affect people who are living and growing up in deprived communities."