Look back in hunger: Britain's silent, scandalous epidemic

Evidence is mounting that thousands of children in the UK are not getting enough food to eat – and that, as financial hardship spreads, their numbers are increasing rapidly

Chris is 10. He and his brother are so malnourished that their skins are pale and they have rings under their eyes. Their older brothers have such an unhealthy diet that they have lost their adult teeth. They live in the sixth-richest city in the world – London. The boys are just four among thousands of Britain's hungry children – victims of a "silent epidemic" of malnutrition in the capital and beyond.

Kids Company, which supports 17,000 children in London, has reported a dramatic increase in the number of children coming to its walk-in centres not in search of shelter or safety, but food. The situation is mirrored around the country. In Barnsley, child-support charities are working with parents who struggle to keep cupboards stocked with such staples as milk, bread and pasta. In Bristol, a youth project has gone from offering a place for teenagers to go for advice and support, to a place they go for a basic meal.

FareShare, a charity that redistributes surplus supermarket food, says soup kitchens, hostels and community groups are struggling to meet demand from parents and young people "desperate" for handouts. Since October, 42 per cent of the groups it works with have faced rising demand for food.

Kids Company, founded in 1996 to provide practical, emotional and educational support to London's most vulnerable children, has seen young people reduced to shoplifting, stealing from bins and eating raw meat. Every week, 70 new children visit the charity looking for support and a meal, compared with 30 a week last year.

Many hungry children are from immigrant families whose parents are not eligible to work or claim benefits. But working parents and those on state handouts are also struggling as the cost of living soars and the job market remains stagnant. "We are seeing effectively responsible parents who are just not managing to have food in the house," said Kids Company's founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh. "Children don't have a public voice so they can't tell us."

The problem is perhaps most visible in schools. Kids Company cites five inner London schools where staff say between 70 and 80 per cent of pupils are affected by food insecurity – not always having food at home, nor knowing where the next meal is coming from.

But it is not just in the capital. A poll conducted in February by Netmums, the largest web forum for parents, found that one in five mothers was regularly missing a meal so her children could eat.

Meanwhile, evidence from Trussell Trust, which supports food banks that give meals to 120,000 people nationwide, also suggests that the problem is growing. Its executive chairman, Chris Mould, said there had been a "huge increase" in demand in recent months – and among the hungry were 36,000 children. Even though the service is expanding, the charity is discovering more and more people in food poverty, who increasingly rely on the charity sector. "What we have seen suggests there are thousands of people in this country going hungry – making hard choices between, fuel, warmth, transport and food," he said. "The pressure falls hardest on mothers and children."

For those on the front line, the problem is clear. "It's all down to money," said Charlotte Williams, who runs Station House, a community group providing childcare services in Thurnscoe, near Barnsley. "We are in a perfect storm. Working parents are having their hours cut and many are losing their jobs. Even where incomes are steady, the cost of living – gas, water, clothes – has gone up to the point that people are having to squeeze their food budget to afford other basics. Next week it will get even worse when working tax credits are cut.

"This week we gave out fresh fruit, and parents said this was great – that they hadn't had it for some time.

"Barnsley is a proud place, parents don't want to admit they can't afford food, but when you see their reaction when we have something we can give away, you can tell immediately what the situation is at home. It's the first thing children ask about when they come in the door – do you have any food?"

The School Food Trust, which advises the Government about children's nutrition, said that for "far too many children" a free school lunch was their only proper meal of the day. "Teachers often report children coming to school too hungry to learn, and fears about whether they will eat at all when they get home from school in the evening," a spokeswoman said.

At the same time as demand at front-line food charities is rising, funding for them is running out. In a survey last year, FareShare found that one in three of its client charities had fallen prey to Government funding cuts; two-thirds were cutting food budgets to stay afloat.

The problem of child food poverty is the worst it has been, even in the experience of seasoned youth workers such as Ms Batmanghelidjh.

"A lot of agencies who could help are short of funding and they are having to gatekeep more or refer more," she said. "I have been at street level 21 years, and lack of food in the last year-and-a-half has become a much more widespread problem than we have seen before. I know of a collective of parents who are shoplifting just to feed their kids."

This week, Kids Company is launching its "Plate Pledge" to help tackle food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition among children. To support the appeal, visit www.kidscoplatepledge.org

Additional reporting by Aaron Lee, Olivia Lee and Raziye Akkoc

Case studies: Starving children

Kids Company has shared the stories of some of London's hungry. Names have been changed and because young children find it hard to articulate their experience, two young adults were asked to recall what it is like to be young, scared and starving.

Chris, 10: "The only food the children were given was cheap, fried, processed food"

Chris and his brother showed signs of extreme malnourishment with pale skin and dark rings under their eyes. His two elder brothers had lost their four adult front teeth and his two-year-old brother was losing his baby teeth prematurely.

His alcoholic father left his mother two years ago. When case workers first visited Chris's home, the only food the children were given was cheap, fried, processed food. The children have very low confidence and were bullied at school.

Chris's key worker now picks him up from school every day and eats a healthy supper with him in one of Kids Company's centres. Now, he loses his temper less.

Amy, 20: "I was so hungry I would even chip bits of brick off the wall and eat those"

"When I was little I was very thin and was very embarrassed about it. I had developed a tummy ache which attached itself to eating and stress, which I believe was something I inherited from my mother's stress around not having enough food.

"I would wake up starving in the night but there would be no more food. When I went to people's houses their parents would make as much food as possible for me and more for me to take home.

"At my best friend's house I would fill up on dog biscuits in between meals. I would wait at my garden fence and ask passers-by for sweets or food. I would even chip bits of brick off the wall and eat those. When I lived on my own and on the streets I would spend days walking around London, hoping to be able to find or steal some food. I would look in every bin and on every bit of the floor."

Joe, 20: "I could hardly eat – my stomach was so shrunken, my ribs were sticking out"

"I was nine when I was first arrested for stealing from a supermarket. I was trying to get baby formula for my sister. When I first came to Kids Company, I could hardly eat anything – my stomach was so shrunken, my ribs were sticking out.

"It took about eight months for me to eat what I should be eating. But I got to have a full meal every day. Coming here made me so happy because I was a lot less stressed. I had stability for the first time. I was able to learn better. I was able to do a lot of things better because I wasn't tired all the time."

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

    £39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game