Half of the children needing help from food banks last summer were in primary school and more than a quarter were under the age of five, according to research.
The UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, has revealed that 67,500 three-day emergency food packages went to children in July and August 2016 – 4,000 more than in the preceding two months.
The research shows that 47% of the children receiving supplies from food banks were aged 5-11, while 27% were under five and a fifth were aged 12-16.
Samantha Stapley, operations manager for England at the Trussell Trust, said the statistics highlighted “just how close to crisis many families are”.
She added: “As a nation, we also must address the reasons why families with children are referred to food banks in the first place. We welcome the government’s decision to maintain free school lunches for children during term time – the next step must be to help families during the holidays.”
The Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton, described the figures as shocking, adding: “That so many primary-age children are going without food in our country is of great concern.
“It is very good that the community wants to help and work with those less fortunate and that is a key part of the gospel values. It is, however, also important that we keep trying to understand the deeper reasons why this situation is as it is.”
Stapley said food banks were doing more than ever before, but voluntary organisations “alone cannot stop primary school children facing hunger”. She called for a long-term coordinated solution to help keep families from “falling into crisis”.
The Trussell Trust said the proportion of primary school children helped by food banks was consistently high all year round, with 46% of the children referred in the year to March aged between five and 11.
The charity said it was offering extra help to families this summer, with additional services including a holiday club. Trained volunteers will talk to parents to understand why they are struggling and offer support.
Imran Hussain, director of policy, rights and advocacy at Child Poverty Action Group, described the data as incredibly worrying but not surprising. “Children are twice as likely to be poor than pensioners,” he said. “The poverty rate for children is 30% and for pensioners it’s 16%. The trajectory for child poverty is that it will hit 5 million by 2022.”
Hussain added that wage stagnation and cuts to benefits were behind the stark figures. “We need to make sure a basic level of benefits is there to meet the needs of children – that is a chronic issue that needs tackling,” he said.
“We know summer is tough for families, particularly those with young children, and it can be difficult to get time off or afford childcare to pay for it … you hear anecdotally that some parents leave jobs every summer to look after their kids.”
A government spokesman said: “Record numbers of people are now in work and we’re helping millions of households meet the everyday cost of living and keep more of what they earn.
“We’ve doubled free childcare to help parents into work, and continue to spend over £90bn a year on support for those who need it, including those who are bringing up a family or on a low income.
“Budgeting advice and benefit advances are also available for anyone who needs more help.”