London looks good when the sun’s out. But a holiday, or even a day or two at the seaside is an impossible dream for a growing number of young families. A study published today shows that Britain will have 3.5 million children living in poverty by 2020. Another report released today by charities Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust reveals that more than 20 million meals were provided to people in the UK last year – a breathtaking 54% rise on the previous year.
Holiday plans get pushed much further down the list when you’ve got a number of young mouths to feed and no money to do it with. Tonight, the terrible situation faced by growing numbers of youngsters whose parents are struggling to put together the money for their meals will be shown in a Channel 4 documentary called Breadline Kids. It’s on at 7.35pm. One mum on benefits mentioned in the programme has £3.60 a day to spend on herself and her two daughters. This figure seems to tie in with the one given to me by a number of single adults I’ve met at the London food bank. A number of them had been attempting to feed themselves on a budget of £2 a day – or sometimes less.
The accounts of the children are very touching, but hard to listen to. Since the recession began over 1,000 breakfast clubs have been started for primary school children. The problem of children arriving at school hungry has been growing significantly over the last two years. When schools are out for six weeks this summer, children will suffer even more, as the hardest-pressed family budgets melt down to nothing.
Ray Woolford runs the We Care advice centre in South-East London, which provides help and support to struggling individuals and families. The centre also sells fresh and long-life food at very low cost to those in need. He is very concerned about what will happen to families with school-aged children this summer. ‘More and more people are saying they are terrified about how they are going to feed their children.’
He’s currently trying to come up with a solution in time for the mass exodus when schools break locally: ‘We’re trying to find kitchens so that we can run breakfasts and lunch clubs. If not, then we will have food parcels for people to take, with milk and cereals. If we can’t get kitchens then we will create summer kitchen packs.’ He’s also considering liaising with local cafes.
In Blackpool, breakfasts are now being offered to all primary school children. Increasingly, local communities will start to become more aware of the scale of the summer destitution on their doorsteps. I’ve just heard of the case of parents with an 11-year-old daughter who’ve all just spent a week sleeping in a London park. These dreadful cases won’t and can’t remain hidden much longer.