There is “unprecedented” demand from families for assistance with food during school holidays, a charity has warned.
The Salvation Army said it has seen a growing number of children referred to it by teachers, health visitors and GPs.
The church and charity, based in more than 600 locations in the UK, is expecting to provide thousands of cooked meals and food parcels to children during the summer.
I know that, for these people, we are the last resort
Carol McKean, one of the charity’s community managers in Sheringham, Norfolk, said she had constantly heard the phrase “I’ve never had to claim benefits before” from anxious parents “who look broken asking for help”.
“I know that, for these people, we are the last resort. They really are short of food for their kids, and some are saying they haven’t eaten for a couple of days so their kids can eat,” she said.
One mother from Swindon, who had fled an abusive relationship, said that as her children did not have school meals during the holidays, “all day long they are telling me they’re hungry”.
“Though my children are entitled to food vouchers, the amount has been halved despite prices going up,” she added.
We are now braced to feed more children than ever over the next few weeks
Lieutenant Colonel Dean Pallant
“I’ve worked out I am £165 short every month, and that’s just for my bills. I’ll go several times a week without a main dinner and just having beans on toast for breakfast. I don’t care about myself as long as my children eat.”
The charity’s Lieutenant Colonel Dean Pallant said: “When I hear Salvation Army officers report that ‘people are on the bones of their knees’ and they have seen children who are ‘anorexically thin’ it sounds like something from 1865, when the Salvation Army was founded, not 2022.”
He added that emergency payments from Government to help poorer households with rising energy bills would bring “some desperately needed relief” but “short-term measures only provide a temporary sticking plaster on a long-term crisis”.
“To protect people from sinking further into poverty over time we are calling for all benefits intended to help people on low incomes to keep up with inflation,” he said.
“We have already seen a surge in demand at our food banks since the start of the cost-of-living crisis. We are now braced to feed more children than ever over the next few weeks.”
The Salvation Army has also called for existing universal credit debt to be covered by the Government’s 60-day Breathing Space scheme, expansion of free childcare so parents can afford to work, and a new cross-Government taskforce to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.