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‘I have to gather my pennies together so my kids can have some toast’: Emergency food bank parcels increased 5000% in 10 years, new report shows

Drastic cuts to the welfare budget have led to a 5,000 per cent spike in emergency food parcels given out, a report into the impact of austerity cuts has found.

Malnourished children are turning to schools to be fed their one hot meal of the day – because their parents cannot afford to power their houses due to the diminishing support provided by the government, Human Rights Watch has said.

Welfare freeze harms children and single parents the most

Delays to universal credit payments, benefit stipends not rising in line with inflation and laws penalising unemployed parents who have more than two children are leaving the vulnerable in disarray, the 115-page report  by the NGO states.

It found people in the UK are left starving and with pennies in their bank account after the government cut welfare for families by a staggering 44 per cent – a cut twice as large as the next sector facing a squeeze.

No other sector has faced such “draconian” cuts, says the charity, with government statistics stating child poverty has risen from 200,000 people to 3.7 million.

Focusing on three areas in England with high deprivation levels in Hull, Cambridgeshire and Oxford, researchers found several parents who were forced to skip meals so their children could eat.

The report found 1 in 5 children do not have consistent access to food, with children making up 40 per cent of the people most affected by the cuts, says the report.

“Often, I have nothing left at the end of the week,” said a 23-year-old mother from Hull with a 4-year-old daughter who was unable to find employment that fit with her daughter’s school schedule, and relied on a low-cost community pantry which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets.

“When you’re a single mum there are very few jobs you can do that let you drop your child to school in the morning, then go to work and be back at 2.30 to pick them up. I skip meals, so my daughter can eat.”

One mother in the area of Wisbech in Oxford said: “Right now, I have 34p in the gas meter and I can’t top it up until the weekend. You need gas to cook food for the kids. At least the children get a hot meal in school.

“But they break up for half term on Friday. It’s going to be a long few days. I’ll have to gather my pennies together for a loaf of bread and 50p of butter, so my kids can have some toast,” she added.

‘You can’t survive on welfare’

Charities, schools and food banks are tasked with ensuring people have enough food to survive.

Researchers across the cities said they are buckling under the pressure.

Hull and East Riding Citizens Advice worker Emma Middleton told the publication, “you can’t survive on welfare”.

She said: “Benefits haven’t kept up with inflation, and you can’t survive on welfare. A few years ago, we used to be able to help people with an answer, direct them somewhere for help, but increasingly there’s not much we can do.

“The safety nets to which we used to direct them which they may not have known about aren’t there any more.”

Another worker from the Trussell Trust said they cannot reverse the impact of the cuts.

They said: “No charity can replace the dignity of people having enough money to afford a decent standard of living.”

One teacher in Oxford told researchers: “In a class of 30 children, I’d say school lunch is the only hot meal of the day for between 2 and 5 of them.”

The charity said it felt compelled to investigate the impact of austerity cuts on people in the UK, making it the first human rights group to do so.

“The way the UK government has handled its reduction in welfare spending has left parents unable to feed their children in the fifth-largest economy in the world said Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The UK government should ensure everyone’s right to food rather than expecting charities to step in and fill the gap.”