One in five parents in the UK is struggling to feed their children – skipping meals and relying on handouts from friends and family to be able to put food on the table.
A report has found that 70 per cent of families suffering from food poverty with children in primary school education rely in some part on food supplied by schools.
This has sparked fears that the absence of free meals or food given out by breakfast or after-school clubs during the summer holidays could see some children go hungry.
More than a quarter of families who are in food poverty believe they will be unable to provide food for all the meals their children need during the school holidays, according the research carried out by supermarket Tesco, along with foodbank charity the Trussell Trust and food redistribution charity FareShare.
“That one in five parents in this country is struggling to afford food for their families and thousands more people are turning to food banks for emergency food is a stark reminder of how tough things have become for many ordinary people,” said Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which has seen demand for its food banks rise by 170 per cent over the past year, taking the number of users in the past 12 months to 350,000, UK-wide.
“We’re meeting parents who have gone hungry for days in order to feed their children, and school holidays are always especially difficult with many budgets stretched to breaking point,” added Mr Mould.
The researchers defined those who had skipped meals because they could not afford to eat, used a food bank, relied on friends or family for handouts or gone without food to feed other family members as being in food poverty.
Half of all families which suffer from it said adults in the household had been forced to miss meals in order to provide for their children, the report found, while 21 per cent of parents hit by food poverty said they had accepted handouts.
Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said that the organisation had referred 300 people to food banks in the past three months. “Sadly, these figures won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has worked in a Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau,” she said, adding that a double whammy of recession and cuts to benefits had left more people struggling to make ends meet.
The problem of food poverty is higher in 18 to 24-year-olds, the research also revealed, with 44 per cent of this age group saying they had experienced some form of food poverty in the last six months.
Every Tesco store in the UK will be taking part in a national food collection initiative on Friday and Saturday. Donations handed in by the public will be topped up by the supermarket.
“This research reveals that since our last national food collection in December, the problem of food poverty in the UK has increased,” said Rebecca Shelley, group corporate affairs director at Britain’s largest retailer, which is organising the UK’s biggest-ever food collection this weekend.
“It’s hitting families hard, especially when free school meals, breakfast clubs and after-school clubs are not available.”