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More English Kids Go to School Hungry as Parents Turn to Charity

  • Increase in proportion of underweight and anemic children
  • Food shortages driven by welfare curbs, Trussell Trust says

An increasing proportion of English children are underweight and anemic as low incomes and neglect by parents lead to malnourishment in the fifth-richest country in the world, a cross-party panel of lawmakers said.

Record numbers also turned to charity for help last year as a result of low pay and changes to the U.K.’s welfare system, according to the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food-bank network. Its members handed out 1.1 million three-day emergency food packs in the 12 months through March, the charity said.

“Something very troubling is happening and there are at least two forces operating; one is the breakdown in parenting, and the second is an increase in the numbers on a low income,” Frank Field, chairman of the House of Commons All-Party Group on Hunger, said of the findings on child hunger published Friday. “It’s a tragedy if one of these strikes a child, but it’s an unbounded horror if a child is hit by both.”

The group is seeking to compile data so policies can be developed to tackle the crisis, Field said in an e-mailed statement. The report drew on data from the National Child Measurement Program and charities to highlight the extent of malnutrition.

‘Constant Companion’

“Too many people in Britain are hungry -- How many? We do not know,” Field said. “We have only impressions which suggest that too many children have hunger as their most constant companion.”

The report said 6,367 children, or 1 percent of those who started school in 2014, were underweight, an increase of 16 percent from 2012. There was also a 15 percent rise in the number of 10-year-olds underweight when they started their final year at primary school, it said, citing NCMP data.

The panel also used World Bank figures to show record levels of anemia in infants, with 500,000 children under five recorded with the condition in 2011, a 46 percent increase in a decade.

The government should encourage the takeup of vouchers that can be used to claim free milk, fruit and vegetables, the group said. Money from the tax on sugary drinks announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne last month should be used to ensure children can get a midday meal out of term time, it urged.

The Trussell Trust said Friday 416,000 of the food packs it handed out over the past year went to children, while delays and changes to welfare payments were the cause of 42 percent of referrals to its food banks, which are stocked by donations from the public and companies.

“One million three-day food supplies given out by our food banks every year is 1 million too many,” David McAuley, the chief executive officer of the trust, said in an e-mailed statement. “This must not become the new normal.”

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