Poverty, hunger and substance misuse: The challenges faced by South Tyneside families during coronavirus lockdown

Social services reveal that thousands of North East households are misusing drugs and alcohol as experts warn that figures are set to worsen due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

And the figures show that thousands of households were already severely abusing drugs or alcohol before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed.

Between 2018 and 2019, a total of 26,600 referrals were made to social care services across the region which required further assessment.

Those who were living with domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse and drug and alcohol abuse now have nowhere to go. Picture: PA.

Data for these household assessments has shown how many times a so-called ‘concerning factor’ – such as drugs or alcohol misuse, neglect or mental health – was raised across the region’s cases.

The figures revealed:

Alcohol misuse was identified at the end of 5,920 assessments, accounting for (an aggregated) 22% of cases.

Drug misuse was identified at the end of 6,880 assessments, accounting for (an aggregated) 25% of cases.

Nuno Albuquerque, Group Treatment Lead, UKAT.

Other concerning factors identified at the end of household assessments across the North East included domestic violence (13,550 times), mental health (13,580 times), neglect (5,620 times) and physical abuse (3,800 times).

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In South Tyneside there were 933 referral episodes requiring assessment in 2018/19 of which 239 were alcohol abuse and 253 were drug abuse.

‘Ask for help if you need it’

Drug and alcohol addiction experts UKAT warn these numbers will more than likely ‘tip off the scale in the next report’ given the current coronavirus crisis lockdown.

The UK Addiction Treatment Group has also seen an increase in the number of people using its 24/7 online chat tool, which supports people who are struggling with life at home or turning to alcohol and drug misuse.

Nuno Albuqeruque, Group Treatment Lead at UKAT, said: “We must remember that these aren’t just numbers; they’re children, parents and carers whose situation last year was so concerning it was passed to social services to explore and support.

“Our immediate concern now is how much worse their situations may have become since the Covid-19 lockdown was enforced.

“Those who were living with domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse and drug and alcohol abuse now have nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to.

“Unfortunately, we’d expect to see the number of referrals into social care and support services rise during this time, particularly for alcohol misuse.

“We urge everyone living across the North East to ask for help if they feel that they need it.”

Support for the disadvantaged

Meanwhile, Children North East, the North East Child Poverty Commission and Schools North East have written an open letter to the region’s MPs asking them to press for more support for disadvantaged children in the wake of the crisis.

The organisations warn of a rising tide of poverty and say existing inequalities are on the increase as a result of Covid-19.

Life was already tough for many communities in the region before the pandemic struck, with more than 35% of the region’s children and young people already growing up in poverty after housing costs were taken into account.

They say for thousands of North East families already struggling, the impact of immediate job losses, 20% pay cuts or reduced working hours will be devastating, as will the anticipated medium and longer-term increase in unemployment as the economic impact of the lockdown continues.

Prior to the outbreak, the North East had the highest percentage of both primary and secondary age pupils on free school meals and, with over 1.8 million people nationally applying for Universal Credit since March 16 this year, many more families in the region will need help with food..

Jane Streather, Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, added: “We know that MPs across the North East will already be raising concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people in our region, and the action required both now and in the aftermath of the pandemic to support those most disadvantaged by this crisis.

“It’s clear that children, young people and schools in our region will need significant additional support to address the wide-ranging consequences of this pandemic.”

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