‘We have to care’: Coronavirus is deepening child poverty crisis, warns Euston Foodbank
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“Poverty is why more and more people are coming to us at the food bank and children are an increasing part of that picture.”
Euston Foodbank has seen a 76% rise in the number of children fed emergency food parcels in April compared to the same month last year – and its chair of trustees Dorothea Hackman is “100%” sure coronavirus is worsening child poverty.
Nationally, government statistics show 4.2 million children lived below the poverty line in 2018/19.
Locally, recent figures from Loughborough University, based on data from the Department for Work and Pensions, show the percentage of children living in working poverty in Holborn and St Pancras rose by 7.6% from 2014/15 to 2018/19 – the second highest increase of all London constituencies.
Dorothea said this rise is “absolutely” reflected in what Euston Foodbank sees on the ground, with Covid-19 pushing families to the very brink.
Including adults and children, the food bank in Lancing Street has witnessed a 163% increase in emergency food parcels distributed this April versus last year – nearly double the average increase of the Trussell Trust – the country's largest network of food banks.
Dorothea told the Ham&High: "Families are turning up, both parents have lost work and they have nowhere else to go.
“They’ve exhausted savings, they’ve exhausted borrowing from friends, they have two children and they have no food.
“It grieves me utterly that we think that it’s optional to look after our children.
“To let children grow up in poverty is shocking – we have to care.”
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Dorothea is a governor for Netley Primary School in Euston where she says previous work with the children suggested the majority of Year 6 pupils shared bedrooms, some with as many as seven people.
She said the “biggest” issue behind child poverty is the politics of austerity imposed since 2010, and that issues of overcrowding and impoverishment are inextricably tied to access of housing, education, employment and health.
Dorothea warned the misery of poverty risked “alienating” the younger generation and pushing families to the limit.
“You see fractures at the extreme point where parents simply can’t cope, where children take to drugs, knives and crime,” she said.
“These are the extremes and these issues need preventing from the very beginning.
“The place that you prevent child poverty is by making sure these children get three square meals a day, a proper education and feel part of the communities that we live in.
“The hungry child is a child who is waiting to be kicked, their eyes are dead and they’re expecting nothing.
“We can’t let them fall by the wayside.”
Camden Council said a halving of its budget from austerity since 2010, a “mounting housing crisis” and “stagnating wages” has seen “far too many families’ lives blighted by in-work poverty”.
Cllr Angela Mason, responsible for families and children, said the council is investing £5 million to tackle poverty.
The town hall has made 30 hours of early education available to three and four year olds from low income families and provided free school meals to children most in need, including during lockdown.
It has also given around 10,000 families council tax relief.
Cllr Mason said: “We have seen the coronavirus pandemic shine a light on the inequalities that already blight our communities, with some families impacted far worse than others.
“We will not stand by to see anyone left behind and so we have launched a £3 million hardship fund to provide those struggling financially at this difficult time with council tax holidays, emergency one-off payments, food packages and benefit advice.”
Keir Starmer, Holborn and St Pancras' MP, called child poverty “one of the great injustices of our time”.
The Labour leader warned the financial and social toll of coronavirus meant it was “likely to grow even larger”.
Mr Starmer said: “Since becoming an MP in 2015 I have worked hard to support families affected by poverty.
“At every constituency advice surgery I hold, I see first-hand the cost of our failure to tackle child poverty.
“As co-chair of the Camden Youth Safety Taskforce, one of my biggest priorities is ensuring that children and families in our community get the support they need to succeed.
“This is absolutely crucial in helping our young people lead safe, fulfilling lives.”
Anna Feuchtwang, chair of the End Child Poverty coalition, said: “We may all be experiencing the storm of coronavirus together, but we are not all in the same boat.”
Ms Feuchtwang said government data showed poor children have been “cut adrift” and are “already experiencing unacceptable hardship through cuts and freezes to the benefits system”.
She said: “Our country’s children are now at severe risk of being swept deeper into poverty as a result of the pandemic and lockdown.
“This is why we are asking the government to strengthen the social security system which is there to hold us steady during tough times, by immediately increasing household income for those least well-off.”
The government said it “understands the challenges many are facing” and that it had increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 a year.
A Whitehall spokesperson said: “We currently spend a record £95 billion a year on our safety net welfare system and remain committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society throughout the current emergency and beyond.”