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Poverty-stricken parents skipping meals to feed their children

BABIES so hungry they resort to chewing nappies, single parents struggling to make ends meet and mums and dads skipping meals to feed their children. These are just some of the situations Croydon families find themselves in as the financial crisis continues....

"LOOK at this – just look at it," gesticulates Ashley Butler at the stacked shelves of the small foodbank in Reeves Corner.

"Does this look like England? Or does it look like somewhere in the Third World?"

Mr Butler is a father-of-one who volunteers at the emergency food store set up by Fatima Koroma last year.

Amid cuts to public funding, volunteers are taking it upon themselves to help the neediest in Croydon.

Ms Koroma set up the foodbank next to Reeves Corner last year and receives no funding from the council to keep it running.

In the last 12 months, she has seen a surge of people coming to her store for help.

She said: "You get some real horror stories here. I've had a mother come in here telling me she found her child chewing at a dirty nappy because he was so hungry.

"It's really hard watching struggling parents come in and think what the children must be going through.

"Another very vulnerable group are refugees or asylum seekers who go to Lunar House and then have to wait around.

"They have no access to public funds and places like this are the only places they can get help."

One mother who visits, Sarah* from Waddon, has five children. She is looking after them single handedly after the father moved away. She suffers from arthritis so receives some extra money in disability allowances but had to give up her work to take care of her kids.

When she came in this week, it was the first time she had eaten for two days and cried with relief when volunteers passed her a food package.

Alan* is a single dad with two children both in school. He gave up his full-time job to find work which would fit in around his kids but is struggling to make enough money to provide for them.

Ruth* visited the foodbank for the first time, having just lost her job.

"My partner left at Christmas and I have been trying to look after my three kids but working hours were really difficult. In the end, they got rid of me and we are being evicted from our flat.

"I had only £60 on Friday and that has all gone now. I just need some food to tide me over until my application for Jobseekers' Allowance comes through.

"I don't know how people with children survive on what they give you.

"Looking after my children is always on my mind, I'm always scared for them now, I feel like I'm not coping.

"I have to get back to work but the Jobcentre says it's even more difficult to get work when you need to fit around school hours."

A pregnant woman, Safiya*, said she had lost her job when her employers found out about her pregnancy. She has no support for three weeks until her Jobseekers' Allowance comes through.

Another mother with a baby came in saying she had no necessities like nappies or toiletries to look after her child properly.

"The impact of the welfare reforms are really beginning to bite," said Ms Koroma.

"Despite what your opinions are on whether benefits should be cut, it is often children who are bearing the brunt of it through no fault of their own."

*The Advertiser has agreed not to name those interviewed

THE COST OF POVERTY) ALMOST 20,000 children are living in poverty in Croydon – a number which is draining £197 million from the borough's economy, according to calculations made by the charity Child Poverty Action Group. Around 18,107 – almost one in five – under 18s in the borough are living under the UK's poverty line. According to the action group, those living on 60 per cent or less of the average UK family's income are defined as being below the poverty line The report outlines how councils are bearing the brunt of the impact of welfare reforms by having to implement policies like council tax benefit reforms while facing cuts to social care spending – both of which are exacerbating child poverty levels. Croydon had an 8.3 per cent drop in its grant from central government for 2012-13 and faces another 10 per cent cut for 2015-16, forcing it to find £15 million of added savings. Croydon's children and family services are facing £10.93 million of funding cuts and savings between 2013 and 2015, including £1.7 million to early intervention, family support and youth services. The report calculated the borough loses £197 million through the amount of money Croydon Council spends to deal with the consequences of child poverty and the loss of income through a lack of tax contributions. According to the charity, each child living below the poverty line costs Croydon Council around £10,861.42 every year. A council spokesman stressed the figures were estimates and that child poverty appeared to be decreasing. The last official figure was given by HMRC in 2010 and stood at 25.1 per cent of children living in poverty "The actual financial cost of child poverty to Croydon is not known," said the spokesman. "The Croydon children and families partnership recognises that financial as well as the non-financial costs of child poverty are likely to be significant and has already responded by making reducing child poverty a partnership priority."VOLUNTEERING ONLY a month ago one of the foodbank volunteers, Ashley Butler, was on the other side of the counter visiting the foodbank after he lost his job. "It was the first time in six years that I hadn't been working," he said. "Suddenly I realised there was just not enough to support me and my daughter. I did not feel like a man or a father. If you have children, you have to make sure you do everything to support them, even if that means working day and night. "When I lost my job, she was the first thing I thought about. The Jobseekers' Allowance I got went straight on her and left me with little to do anything else." Ashley tried to get a Croydon Discretionary Support (CDS) loan from the council which has replaced the crisis loans given out in cases of emergency by the Department of Work and Pensions. However, they referred him to the foodbank instead. He continued: "I came here and from that moment everything changed. It's not just a place where you can get yourself fed on the bare necessities but it's real kindness. "It's completely run by volunteers and it receives no funding from any of the agencies which refer people here. You can also get all sorts of advice. "I even managed to secure a job interview here through people giving suggestions." Ashley stopped using the foodbank in June but continues to volunteer there. He added: "This is a place bypassed by politics. I don't think people are even aware of who the MP is. Politicians pay no attention and our voices are not heard. I would like Gavin Barwell to come down here for one morning, just to talk to the people who walk through the doors and hear their stories. "It breaks my heart every time I'm here and someone in trouble walks through the door – I don't know how he couldn't be affected by it."

Poverty-stricken parents skipping meals to feed their children

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