Three children in every primary school in the UK will be deprived of the very basics this Christmas, a leading charity has warned today (6 December).
Nearly one million children under 10 face a festive season with little to celebrate, lacking basics such as a heated home, warm winter coat or fresh food, according to the leading charity Action for Children.
New research by the charity reveals that a decade of austerity and ongoing problems with Universal Credit, which merges six social security benefits into one single monthly payment, means that parents below the breadline are able to spend on average just £2 a day per child on food.
And with no free school meals available during the school holidays, Action for Children says this leaves many low-income families struggling to afford their children’s lunch. With a typical primary school meal in the UK costing £2.30 a day, it means parents can barely afford lunch, let alone breakfast and dinner.
Leanne, 34, from Glasgow, and her partner have four children under 12. Despite both parents being in work they often struggle to put enough food on the table.
Leanne said: “After my third was old enough, I got myself a 13-hour contract job at night. It wasn’t much but I had three kids under 10 so I wanted to be there for them.
“My partner was in full-time work and I was part-time, I was so optimistic, and I just thought ‘we are going to be so happy now’.
“But then all the bills and taxes came in. Despite us both having an income, we had less than ever. I remember saying to my partner that we can’t afford to work.”
The ongoing stress over a lack of food and worry about keeping a roof over the family’s head led to Leanne falling into a state of depression.
“I would just sit in all day and cry”, she said. “I couldn’t do what was right for my kids. Their friends were getting fancy new clothes and new technology and I was struggling to keep a roof over our heads.
“I couldn’t feed them. They were living off chips and plain pasta to fill them up, but it wasn’t healthy. They weren’t getting the fruit and veg they needed. But what else could we do?
“There were times I’d make the kids food and just watch them because if I ate, I didn’t know if I would be able to get more food for dinner the next day.
“One day, I went to the Action for Children centre and just broke down. That was when my worker got me access to the foodbank. But I was so embarrassed. How was it fair that we are both working, and we are in the foodbank, how are people able to survive?”
She added: “This year I am finding it a lot harder than I did last. Thankfully my mum does the Christmas dinner, but if she didn’t, we wouldn’t be having one. It would be another night of pasta or hot dogs from a can.”
Action for Children’s chief executive, Julie Bentley, said: “No parent should have to face the awful prospect of their youngster sitting in the cold without a plate of food to eat at the end of a school day, or skip dinner themselves so their child has a meal.
“Politicians are telling us austerity has ended but every day at Action for Children our frontline services say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember.
“While some families will spend the Christmas holidays putting their children to bed early to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat the house, for others it has become the norm not have a winter coat, rely on foodbanks, or for their children to miss out on hot meals.
“The next Government must deliver ambitious policies to end child poverty and bring in a ‘National Childhood Strategy’ to give all our children a safe and happy childhood.
“But until every family has enough money to keep their child warm and well fed, we will continue to help them. That’s why we’re asking the public to get behind our Secret Santa campaign to help us support our most vulnerable children, not just at Christmas but every day.”