Heartbreak over need for foodbank's services as charity reveals extent of child poverty in North East
Harrowing figures from charity Action for Children revealed that four pupils in each primary school class in the North East will be deprived of the basics, including a warm winter coat, fresh food and heating at home this Christmas.
As the research was announced, on Friday, December 6, Maureen Bowman, Secretary of the Washington Community Food Project, spoke of her heartbreak that her team's valuable services are so greatly needed in 2019.
'There should not be a need'
The Project, which was previously based out of a number of locations, has this week moved to a new premises at The Galleries in Washington; the start of a new chapter which will enable them to support more families across the community.
Speaking to the Echo, Maureen said the recognition they get from those who use their services "makes it all worthwhile" - but that it's heartbreaking to know so many people need their help to start with.
She continued: "In this day and age we are supposed to be a rich country – there should not be a need for what we do.
"We can still be there in an advisory capacity and I long for the day we are only there as advisors.
"It’s dreadful really."
Below the breadline
Action for Children’s research showed that there are almost 55,000 children under 10 living in low-income families across the region.
Many families are struggling following a decade of austerity and ongoing problems with universal credit - and the charity's figures said parents below the breadline are able to spend just £2 a day, on average, per child on food.
At this price, they can struggle to afford nutritious food, which is vital for health and development.
In addition, there are no free school meals on offer during the school holidays - and it is this void which leaves many worse-off families struggling to provide for their children.
A typical primary school meal in the UK costs £2.30 a day, according to the research.
An age of austerity
According to Action for Children, at least 50 of its services across the country have provided foodbank support over the past year and with demand so high, the charity is planning to host unofficial foodbanks again over the festive season.
The charity also runs a “Secret Santa” campaign to collect donations for those who need them.
John Egan, director for England at Action for Children, has called on the next Government to deliver policies which will end child poverty.
He said: “No parent in the North East should have to face the awful prospect of their youngster sitting in the cold without a plate of food to eat at the end of a school day, or skip dinner themselves so their child has a meal.
“Politicians are telling us austerity has ended but every day at Action for Children our frontline services say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember.
“While some families will spend the Christmas holidays putting their children to bed early to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat the house, for others it has become the norm to not have a winter coat, rely on foodbanks, or for their children to miss out on hot meals.”