4 Sep 2013

The growing number of hungry children in poverty Britain

What does hunger look like?

It’s brutally straightforward in pictures taken during famines across the world – children so malnourished they are often at the point of death; painfully underweight, their ribs showing as they desperately fight for breath.

But here in the UK, it’s very much harder to spot, very much more difficult to convey forcefully.

And for that reason, often harder to convince people it actually exists. Do children here really go hungry ? Really hungry?

More than 2,500 children in London were asked to record a food diary for one school day. The children were just 6 to 8 years old so would reasonably be expected to be in the care of adults who would help provide regular meals.


Yet the University of Leeds researchers found that one in 10 was eating half the calories recommended for their age – 3.5 per cent missed at least one meal a day.

For many of the children the diaries were stories of missed breakfasts, meals without meat or vegetables, little snacks providing the bulk of the day’s calories.

Take one child’s entry:

“A glass of water for breakfast, a piece of cake later in the day. A ham sandwich provides the main meal, crisps, chocolate biscuits and a bowl of ice cream the extras.”

This child won’t starve to death. There’ll be no dramatic pictures to invoke sympathy or even intervention.

However, at 780 calories for the day, this child is not even getting half of the calories they need to grow healthily.

Dr Charlotte Evans, analysed the diaries.

“Looking at the diaries the children won’t be getting enough nutrients as is needed. In many of the cases the problem with not eating enough was what they were getting at home and not at school.”


This study is only the latest in a raft of research which suggests many families are struggling to do that most fundamental thing – feed their children properly.

The rise of food banks of course is well known. The Trussell Trust says that food banks have helped 26,893 children during this year’s summer holidays.

We met Annie a mother of three young boys. Separated from her husband she has had to give up work and is now on benefits. She says it was a local lunch club , near her home in Norwich, which “saved her life” this summer. The boys got a hot – free – meal, allowing her to save vital money on food bills while they were off school.

Annie budgets to the penny, swapping supermarkets all the time to make sure she gets the best deal.  She says that things are getting harder all the time.

“I’m worried that the price of everything is going up and up. My income suppport is not going to go up until next April and it’s only be a couple of quid. My food shop is going up at a visible rate of ten pounds a month. It’s got to the point where something else has got to give.”

For the founder of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh,  none of this is a surprise. Though she accepts her charity is at the sharp end, dealing with very vulnerable children with a host of problems, hunger, she says, is now one of the biggest.


Kids Company now feed 3,000 children a week, the vast majority relying solely on them for the main meal of their day. She says there’s no real acknowledgement of the sort of hunger she sees in children every single day.

“Children go to school and get educated about “five a day”, vegetables, this is what you should eat. And then they go back home and they see there isn’t even money for one of those things. The point is, we have  a discrepancy between what we say families should eat and the resources we provide for them to do that.”

Back at the lunchclub we met two young sisters, Jade and Shania. Lunchclub had been brilliant , they told us. You get lunch every day – “and pudding.”

At home, they said, meals were not quite that predictable. Sometimes they didn’t get lunch because their mum had run out of food and money.

They said they understood that. But what does being hungry feel like?

Shania said, ” After an hour when you’re hungry your belly starts to rumble.”

Jade moved in to whisper: “And it hurts.”

Follow @JackieLongC4 on Twitter



Tweets by @jackielongc4

5 reader comments

  1. PL Hayes says:

    “This child won’t starve to death.”

    Maybe not directly but it is more likely to die following an infection etc. and the damage done now to its physical and intellectual development has shortened its life and reduced its quality. It has been punished, along with its parents, for their ‘sins’ and it will grow up weaker than it otherwise would have in a society which (now) despises the weak and unfortunate and is bent on making their lives ever harder and shorter.

  2. anon says:

    When I hear about children going to school without breakfast and not eating correctly. I feel angry . Are the parents spending the money on unnecessary items? [fashionclothing, drink and cigarettes etc.]

    A large packet of oatmeal can be bought for less than £1.00. I believe we should protect the children by making a proportion of benefits payments as food vouchers for specific items eg eggs. There are many healthy and inexpensive ways to feed a family. The problem is that junk food is seen by many as desirable, despite education and information to the contrary. Learn to include lentils and pulses in soups etc.They are very healthy and nutritious and very inexpensive. These are only two examples ,there are many others such as root vegetables some, fruit etc.

    Maybe the parents do not get the children to school early enough to join the breakfast clubs.
    However in my experience white bread which is not nutritious is usually served . A bowl of porridge sprinkled lightly with brown sugar is enjoyed by many children and is a good start to a day.

    1. Bog Creature says:

      Is your surname Quaker by any chance?

  3. Rachel Bannister says:

    I’m on benefits due to being disabled but my kids NEVER go hungry I get my money and the first thing I do is the food shopping its not luxury food but its nutritious plus they get odd treats ect plus pay my essential bills then I save the rest for birthdays clothes and Xmas I could not stand my child saying I’m hungry mum and not being able to give them something this story makes me so sad

  4. jack says:

    a nation falling apart at the seems

Comments are closed.