Surge in malnutrition leading to ‘Dickensian levels of poverty’ in Camden

Food bank volunteers packing food for hungry residents. Picture: David Jones

Food bank volunteers packing food for hungry residents. Picture: David Jones - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Camden is seeing “Dickensian” levels of poverty after becoming the worst borough in London for malnutrition – with reported cases increasing almost ninefold over the past five years.

Malnutrition cases surged from just six in the borough in 2008/2009 – the second-lowest in the capital at the time – to a city-wide high of 53 in 2012/2013.

It follows a rise seen across England where reported cases have almost doubled over the past five years.

The rise corresponds with one of the worst economic downturns since the Second World War and a so-called “cost of living crisis”.

Social care charities in Camden have blamed the problem on increased unemployment, stagnating wages and rising food prices. They warned the borough was seeing “Dickensian levels of poverty”.

Laurence Guinness, head of research at children welfare charity Kids Company, which runs the Treehouse centre for young people in Fordwych Road, Fortune Green, said: “Malnutrition is one of our biggest challenges and is getting to desperate levels.

“Over 2011 and 2012 we saw a 233 per cent rise in the number of children coming to us because they were hungry.

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“We’ve had to employ two full-time nurses to deal with cases where kids aren’t even getting the basic vitamins they need.

“There’s a level of denial over the Dickensian levels of poverty seen in boroughs like Camden and we’ve had to reach out to the public to help feed the 3,000 London children we see a week.”

Gary Jones, chief executive of Age UK Camden, said the elderly residents his charity helps were particularly at risk.

He said: “It is worrying to see how the number of people in Camden being admitted to hospital with malnutrition is on the rise. Older people are particularly vulnerable.

“At a time when more and more people are struggling financially and meals-on-wheels services have been replaced by a weekly delivery service, we have seen issues with people not being supported to eat and drink properly.”

The statistics – released last week by Minister for Care and Support Norman Lamb – showed neighbouring boroughs were also suffering.

Barnet saw a more than threefold increase to 38 cases, Islington’s level more than doubled to 33, while Westminster rose from 20 to 50 cases.

Camden Council – which announced last Monday it had set aside some of its office space to accommodate ballooning food bank supplies for hungry residents – said the issue had become a “high priority”.

Cllr Pat Callaghan, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “The increase in malnutrition cases in Camden is worrying and we will continue to work closely with our NHS colleagues. Recent coalition government changes to welfare have aggravated this issue. We are working with agencies to treat the root causes of poverty by providing as much advice and support as possible.”