School children in Britain are having to scavenge in bins for food and eat toilet paper because their parents cannot afford to feed them, a leading charity has claimed.
Laurence Guinness, chief executive of the Childhood Trust, has warned that losing free school meals in the summer holiday is hitting tens of thousands of parents who don’t have the money to feed their children properly, the Daily Express reported .
Figures released today by Meals and More shows up to four million children are at risk of ‘holiday hunger’, with more than two million of these (53 per cent) being under the age of five. This proportion is up from 51 per cent last year.
About 700,000 are in “severe” poverty, up from 600,000, while seven in 10 are from working families.
Mr Guinness said: “These figures are horrifying. We know children are going hungry and yet we are failing to adequately address the problem.
“The fact children in a prosperous country like Britain cannot get enough to eat every day is shocking, and the empty promises made by politicians in this context obscene.”
He added that last week he met a 15-year-old boy who was bribed by criminal gangs to sell drugs in exchange for food, while in a deprived area of north London children as young as 12 routinely scavenge in bins for food.
He said he recently worked in a primary school where an eight-year-old boy chewed and ate toilet paper to stave off hunger pains. He reported the boy said: “It makes my tummy pain go away”.
Guiness said school children swap food for toys, a ride on a bike or errands.
“This is hidden Britain and it breaks your heart to see it.”
Much and More runs breakfast and lunch clubs for 12,000 children and saw a 20 per cent increase in demand this summer.
The charity’s operational director, Peter McGrath, said: “Summer holidays should mean fun, but for millions of children it’s a period of uncertainty and stress for parents who do their best for their children in difficult circumstances.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is set to look into how holiday breakfast and lunch clubs can be made available to families that need them over the school break.
He is due to meet experts including former welfare reform minister Frank Field, co-founder of Feeding Britain which runs 19 food projects across the UK, to discuss a universal system for those eligible.
Mr Field said: “Gavin Williamson has contacted us about developing a scheme where children can have food and fun during the holidays.
“I will meet him to discuss how we will take this forward and develop a universal project.
“This will include local authority and voluntary bodies. Rich children have fun and food during the holidays but this should be something all children have.
“There are parents who cannot afford to feed their children properly because of benefit cuts and low wages.”
Meals and More discovered that less than half (49 per cent) of the public have heard of holiday hunger.
Its poll of 2,000 adults also found that, once aware, nearly eight in 10 (78 per cent) expressed concern and three-quarters (74 per cent) believed the government should provide more funding to tackle child poverty.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We recognise that some families need more support which is why we’re spending £95billion a year on working age benefits and investing £9million on summer holiday clubs, providing free activities and healthy meals for disadvantaged children.
“Supporting people into work helps them improve their lives which is why it’s good news that more people are in work than ever before.”