Community volunteers have shared their concern about the cost of living crisis and its impact on children.
One mother told Sky News her two sons had gone hungry in the past.
Another group – offering free hot meals – estimated more than half of the children they are feeding are malnourished.
And Sky News has been told by one food bank that people are stockpiling food because they are so worried about how much worse the cost of living crisis will get.
Nighat Bhola, Director of Humdum UK, which provides hot meals and food in Barking in East London, told us: “What we’ve seen is people want to have extra rations at home. So we’ve provided more pastas and tinned stuff which we don’t normally do.
“What we’ve had is parents want more food for their children as they are worried about what is coming next week.”
Nighat lays out food on a row of tables inside a community centre. People can come and help themselves to what’s available – no questions asked.
On the day we visited, there were basics like bread, and food like wraps near their sell-by date.
Single parent ‘frightened’ of the future
Sultana Begum, who arrived with her two sons Mohammed Eihan, five, and four-year-old Usman, picks up a pizza and puts it in her plastic bag.
A volunteer translates for Sultana, who came to the UK from Bangladesh in 2006.
She reveals she is a single mum and says she would struggle to feed her children without the donations from the food bank and the support of her family.
In the past, she tells us, they have gone hungry. She is still struggling, telling us she restricts the amount of heating they have on at home to a few hours a day.
She says the benefits she receives aren’t enough to cover her bills and the food they need.
“I’m frightened of the future,” she says. “Bills are going up. But I’ve got no choice. This service is keeping my children fed as much as possible.”
These food donations may be keeping children from hunger but malnutrition is another serious concern within the community we visit.
At the Marks Gate Community Hub in Dagenham, the sound of people socialising meets your ears before you step through the door.
People are glad to be back together after the pandemic lockdowns. But there’s another reason this venue is so popular.
Asma Haq from the Marks Gate Relief Project set up a free hot meals service at the beginning of January for ten people. Now the hall is packed.
Malnutrition is a real problem in Dagenham
Asma leads us towards the kitchen where she introduces a group of volunteers each cooking up different curries and rice.
Pointing towards the cooker she explains it’s not a ‘commercial’ appliance and not large enough for their big cooking pots.
I ask if this massive demand for hot meals is down to the soaring cost of living and she nods.
But more than that – she tells us she believes at least half the children in this community in Dagenham are malnourished.
It’s impossible to verify her view but it gives you an insight into the impact of the cost of living crisis on children in this area. And Barking and Dagenham are not alone.
Asma says without the hot meals service children would go hungry.
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She says: “It’s so sad. If you’re living on tinned food there are a lot of issues. A lot of them from my experience are missing out on school.
“They get tired in their games, football. They’re not able to run around. They (the parents) are just not able to afford the food. It’s very shocking and hard. The mums and dads are compromising the right nutritious food because of the rising prices.”
Parents forced to cut back on launderette visits
But the rising cost of living is not just impacting how parents are able to feed their children.
We meet Debra Figaro – a single mother with a teenage daughter and ten-year-old son.
Tears come to Debra’s eyes as she explains the financial struggle to do more for her children.
It’s difficult enough to lure most children away from their phones but Debra doesn’t have the financial means to tempt them with family excursions and other activities.
She says: “As a mother. I hear my friends saying they’ve taking their kids out and I can’t say that.
“It does feel awful knowing I can’t do a lot of things. I do everyday things like go to school but I want to have fun with them. I know deep down they want more from me.”
Even in the local launderette, the cost of living crisis is impacting children. Soaring costs for energy and household products are being pushed onto customers with a load of washing costing more.
Parents we speak to say consequently they are having to cut back on visits.
Harriet Yeboah works in a hospital delivering meals to patients.
She says: “I can’t afford the washing powder, the conditioner – everything is high. I’m working long days, long shifts. I feel bad but I have no choice.”
Christian Lima, originally from the Philippines, also works in the NHS – in blood donation. His wife is a nurse.
But even with two salaries – juggling trying to avoid child care costs – he tells us sometimes they can’t afford to wash their clothes.
He says: “Before we used to wash their clothes three times a week. Now you have to make sure you wash them twice a week.”
In so many ways children are being impacted by the cost of living.