New research by Oxfam has revealed the true extent of the amount of British children living in poverty, with families taking drastic measures
The true plight of Breadline Britain’s destitute children is exposed today.
A shocking 3.5 million youngsters are living in poverty in this country – and experts predict that figure will soar to 5 million by 2020.
In a devastating development, more and more desperate mothers are turning to prostitution in a bid to put food on the table.
Sick and cancer-stricken children are forced to queue up at food banks to stave off their hunger. And parents clinging on to jobs with zero hours contracts don’t know what money they’ll have from one week to the next.
Medical experts recently wrote an open letter to David Cameron slamming the rise in food poverty, saying families “are not earning enough money to meet their most basic nutritional needs” and that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust line of defence against hunger.”
The British Medical Journal revealed how malnutrition in England has almost doubled in fives. It said: “This has all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late. Malnutrition in children is particularly worrying because exposures during sensitive periods can have lifelong effects.”
Here, three brave youngsters and their families tell what life is really like in Breadline Britain
I sell sex for £30 just so I can feed my girls
Desperate mum Susan sold sex to strangers upstairs while her children watch TV downstairs, knowing it’s the only way she can put food on the table.
Unable to scrape together a few pennies to feed the gas metre during a bleak winter she made the heartbreaking decision to quit her low-paid job in a chippy and become a sex worker to pay the bills.
She admits: “I hate what I do. I’m blown apart inside every time I have to lie down and be an actress on a mattress, but I do it out of necessity.”
Unable to manage on her £76 a week wages, topped up by £600 a month tax credit, Susan reveals she was barely able to feed her daughters Becky, 13, and nine-year-old Rosie.
“I simply couldn’t live on my wages and I had nobody to watch the girls if I took a full-time job. I was struggling so badly I sometimes had to tell the girls they couldn’t have an extra bit of toast or a glass of milk,” she says.
“Now, if I need extra cash I work more. People can look down their noses all they like, I’m doing this for my kids. Some family and friends no longer talk to me but I care about my daughters’ welfare more.”
She earns up to £600 a week providing sex at her home in a deprived area of Hull. If she has bills to pay or clothes to buy for her girls she adjusts how much she works and what she charges. Her hourly rate varies from £30 to £50.
But it comes at a high price.When she makes up her face and pulls on her skin-tight trousers and knee-high boots, Susan adopts a defiant, tough-as-nails routine. But she breaks down as she admits she has worked with her children in the house.
The tears flow when she reveals Rebecca and Rosie know what she does.
She sobs: “There’s been times when we’ve been so skint I’ve sneaked clients upstairs while the girls watch TV in the living room… I’m telling my story so people know how bad things can get for families.
“I’m not alone. I know other mums who have been pushed into this as well.”
Little Rosie tells us: “I sometimes get really worried that someone is going to hurt my mum.”
The Cancer Teen: Dad lost his job to care for me
Schoolgirl Niomi could be forgiven for lashing out with anger that she’s been dealt such a rough hand so young, but what she feels more than anything is guilt.
Because since being diagnosed with leukaemia last year, she and her 12-year-old brother Drey and single dad Tom have been thrust into poverty.
Tom, 39, had worked for years as a gardener. But when his daughter’s illness meant she could spend every day in hospital enduring gruelling treatment, he gave it up so she wasn’t alone. “Dad is on benefits because he can’t get a job because he is looking after me,” explains 14-year-old Niomi.
The family now survive on £250 a week in benefits, but after bills and the petrol and parking costs for Niomi’s trips back and forth to Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital 15 miles from their home in Haverill, Suffolk, they are left just with a few pounds each day to feed themselves.
Worried Tom says: “I owe Argos and I’m behind with my garage and TV licence payments. I have those letters through the door saying they can repossess goods from my home. When I bought them I could afford it because I was working.
“When Niomi was taken ill, I had a good job, but that soon went and with it my ability to support us all. It was winter and I had to heat the house a bit more for Niomi as she was ill. It’s not as bad for me, I can bear a bit of cold and put another jumper on but she can’t do that.”
Tom scours the supermarket shelves for half-price offers and bargains.
On the rare occasion they can afford to buy meat, Tom cuts the joint in half and freezes it to make it stretch further.
At the height of their financial struggle, they relied on foodbank handouts almost every night. Tom would visit once a fortnight for supplies of long-lasting but bland tinned and packet food.
Niomi said: “It’s been tough having the same food every night because it’s cheap. I am getting better though. I’ve had good news from the hospital and hope Dad can get a job as he wants to work.
“Lots of children I know have parents who are struggling.”
Her brother Drey chips in: “It is not very nice when you are hungry and there is nothing to eat. Everybody needs help.”
Cancer has robbed Niomi of precious months as a teenager, but the family’s financial struggle may thwart her future.
She adds: “I don’t see myself going to university because it costs a lot of money and I don’t think Dad could afford that.”
The Zero-hours Girl: Stark choice of eating or heating
When her mother was taken seriously ill, 10-year-old Cara went to live with her grandmother.
But having an extra mouth to feed is a daily struggle for Lucy, 54, who has no idea how much money will be coming in because of her zero-hours contract.
Little Cara describes in stark detail a feeling no child should ever experience – the pain of hunger.
“When you skip a meal you get a really sore feeling like something is biting you,” she says.
“You wish there was something to eat but there isn’t, so you have to try to relax, watch telly and calm down. If you are tense or angry, it’s going to get worse.”
Lucy used to work full-time as a cook but since taking keen singer Cara on she has had to move to a zero-hours contract.
There are currently 1.4 million workers in Britain on these contracts, which means they must be available for work at their employer’s request, but are not guaranteed any shifts or pay.
For Lucy and Cara, from West London, it means their income can fluctuate massively from the weeks with 30 hours’ work – to none. Lucy says: “My whole life I believed in God and last year was the first time I lost my faith for a while, because of how much of a struggle it was. Often we have to choose in winter whether we eat or put money in the electricity meter.”
She adds: “There should be a safety net for people like Cara and me. We shouldn’t have to rely on other people’s discarded food.
“I was ashamed but I’m not now.”
Cara adds: “My gran tries her best to get as much money as possible but sometimes it’s not enough. At first I didn’t want to be seen going to the foodbank. It’s not very easy to tell your friends you have no money for food because they think you must spend it on something else.
“But we don’t. We just spend it on gas and electric.”
Sounding older than her years, Cara says: “It shouldn’t be like this. All people should have food.
“There are people out there starving not just in Africa but where you are living now.