Yesterday a Lancashire Telegraph investigation revealed that Blackburn with Darwen has the highest percentage of underweight children in England. Today BILL JACOBS and EMMA CRUCES look at the reality of parents caught in a poverty trap trying to feed their offspring and the reaction of religious leaders to the crisis.
A BLACKBURN mum said she eats nothing but a piece of toast some evenings so her children can have a meal.
The mum-of-two spoke anonymously to the Lancashire Telegraph after revelations that children in the area are the most underweight in Britain. It comes as thousands of families find themselves relying on emergency food parcels, with many youngsters at risk of going hungry in the holidays without their free school meals.
The Blackburn woman was among the many disabled people whose benefits were reduced in recent cuts.
Her husband is unable to work because he is her full time carer. She says the cuts have seen her household income slashed from £400 a month to £200 a month.
She said often the choice was often between heating and eating, but she worried most about the nutrition her family were able to get.
Living in central Blackburn, she has two boys still at home, at primary and at secondary school. She said: “My two eldest are grown up and have left home. They never had it this hard. Over the past year I have lost around a stone and a half, and I am still losing weight. I was classed as a normal weight to begin with.
“I don’t have time to worry about that. I just focus on the day to day. If there’s not much food in the house I sometimes have to make do with a piece of toast so they can have chips. The money we used to get just about covered things like food, heating and bills — now there is very little left for food and heating.
“If I were to get any extra money at all it would go on the electricity or the gas but most importantly the food. By far the lack of food is the biggest worry.
“I do get nervous that the children will get hungry but for now I seem able to avoid that by going without myself. As long as they are all right, that’s all that matters.”
Lucy Hardwick from Maundy Grange in Accrington said it was a ‘typical story’.
She said: “This is very common where a family has children. The adults just go without. It is shocking, but sadly not unusual. We are seeing more and more people come to us for food parcels because they have reached breaking point and just cannot scrimp any more.”
Data obtained from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which looked at the Body Mass Index of Year 6 children, showed 3.5 per cent were clinically underweight in Blackburn with Darwen in 2012/13, which equated to 66 pupils. Assuming the figures are similar for other year groups, there will be about 400 primary children in the borough who are now at risk of malnutrition.