Half of all parents (46 per cent) on a low income have gone short of food over the last year to feed someone else in their family, reveals a survey by leading children's charity NCH.
Some parents are so desperate for money to feed their children that they have considered doing something illegal, according to new report Going Hungry.
The report, carried out by the Food Commission for NCH, is being launched on Friday, June 25. This is just days before the end of a government consultation on diet, which NCH says, pays far too little attention to the impact of poverty on children's diets.
Going Hungry, a snapshot of low-income families across the UK, reveals that lack of money sometimes makes it impossible for parents to feed their children healthily. One in five (20 per cent) parents say they simply do not have enough money for food.
NCH says the government consultation Choosing Health? Choosing a Better Diet
- set to finish on June 30 and helping to shape a forthcoming White Paper - must look much more seriously at how to make healthy food more affordable for families on low incomes. Going Hungry reveals it is almost impossible for these parents to afford to feed their children with nutritious food.
Findings show it costs about 15 per cent more to eat healthily compared to eating unhealthily. Over the last 15 years the average cost of a healthy shopping basket has increased by half - compared to only a 33 per cent increase for an unhealthy basket.
The report adds that the diets of significant numbers of children and parents are nutritionally poor. For example, more than a quarter (28 per cent) of children and a quarter (25 per cent) of parents never eat green vegetables or salad
Caroline Abrahams, NCH's Director of Public Policy, says:
"It is right to be concerned about rising levels of childhood obesity - but NCH's new report shows that it's unfair to place all the blame on parents and children. The comparatively high cost of healthy food and sophisticated marketing used to encourage children to eat junk food are also significant factors.
"Going Hungry shows that the government needs to do much, much more if it is to put healthy food within the reach of children. Action is needed in schools, in the community and within the food industry. Most of all the government must make healthy food affordable to low-income families. Otherwise, drives to end child poverty and improve the nation's health are set to fail."
Other findings include:
- Getting to and from the shops can be costly and inconvenient. More than one in three parents (35 per cent) had to travel more than two miles to get to the supermarket and the average cost of going was £3.71 - an extra 23 per cent on top of their average food bill.
- Mothers and fathers in rural areas often face a tougher time. It's harder to find healthier foods in the countryside - fruit and vegetables are a particular problem.
- The diets of children and parents have not shown substantial improvements - and in some ways have worsened - since NCH carried out similar research in 1991.
NCH is calling on food retailers and manufacturers to reduce salt, sugar and fat levels in food for children, improve labelling, remove snacks from supermarket checkouts and only promote healthy food.
The charity, which supports more than 140,000 children and parents across the UK, also wants the government to develop a national action plan to stamp out food poverty. This should include providing significantly more free or subsidised transport schemes to supermarkets and making only healthy food and drink available in schools.
Report author and Food Commission director Tim Lobstein says:
"Low income families have a hard enough time, without the added burdens of poor access and high costs which prevent them eating a healthy diet. For the poorest families things are getting worse, with the cost of healthier foods rising faster than inflation, while junk food remains cheap and widely available.
"Children growing up now are suffering the consequences of decades of government neglect. Inaction is no longer an option -- it is time for coherent anti-poverty strategies to improve the health of those most at risk."