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Jeremy Hunt's benefits increase 'too late' as working parents forced to ration nappies and water down baby formula
23 November 2023, 17:47
Working parents are being forced to ration nappies for babies and water down formula, according to a leading baby bank network that claims the help announced in the Autumn Statement is "too little too late".
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Sophie Livingstone MBE, the CEO of the Little Village charity, told LBC the Chancellor's announcement that benefits will increase by 6.7% in April is a "drop in the ocean" for hundreds of parents who are already making heart-breaking sacrifices to care for their children.
The charity, which has five hubs across London, has already given more than 7,000 children essentials like nappies, cots and food this year, and is on track to see it's demand double in 2023 compared to 2022.
As the cost of energy bills soar, it's provided 2,500 blankets and more than 6,120 coats to children, many of whom are "sleeping four to a bed" or spending the night on the floor in sleeping bags.
Ms Livingstone told LBC 60% of families they help are couples who "never imagined" they would struggle to afford basic essentials.
She also revealed a quarter of those they assist are employed, with some working in the NHS: "We've had a couple who both worked in the NHS, she [the mother] was an ICU nurse. Her baby was starting weaning and she couldn't afford the cost of the food that was needed for the weaning process.
"She was down to one meal a day, which if you're working 12 hour shifts in ICU is not safe. They needed to reach out for our help to support them with baby essentials to help make things go further."
Ms Livingstone said the increase in benefits and the unfreezing of local housing allowance was "welcome" but said it was a "drop in the ocean for the situation that families are in and the choices they're having to make.
"It's too little too late, you've got energy bills 49% higher than two years ago, and food bills nearly 30% higher than two years ago."
Ms Livingstone said she would have liked to have seen more support for childcare announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the budget, with many parents unable to take on enough hours at work because they cannot afford childminders.
At the Little Village baby bank in Camden, one mum, who works as a restaurant supervisor, told LBC: "I am trying my hardest but it's just impossible, I have no other support at home and they don't make it easy to find childcare so you can go out to work.
"Childcare is more than what I earn working - I am working but it's just not good enough. It makes you doubt working, especially with how much council tax I pay compared to my friends who don't work and don't have to pay it. Where is the incentive to work?"
Having an under-two at nursery full-time costs close to £300 a week, according to data from the Department for Education.
Currently, parents of children aged three to four who work more than 16 hours a week and earn less than £100,000 are entitled to 30 hours free childcare a week. Parents of children aged between nine months to two years old will have to wait until April 2024 to receive the same entitlement.
The mum-of-two described how she has to attend the Job Centre every three months to prove she is trying to earn over £800 per month, but cannot afford to pay for childcare, which would allow her increase her hours.
The Little Village Charity said it also wants to see an end to the two child benefit limit which is "driving people further in to poverty" by capping the amount of benefit parents receive when they have more than two children.
Another mum told LBC she had to leave her job after having her third child who was diagnosed with additional needs.
She said: "It's been really difficult, because of the government's third child benefit rule, we don't get any funding for him so we just have to make do.
"We just have to survive. Food, bills and bare essentials is all we can afford.
"I don't have anything for myself - I'm not in the budget when it comes to monthly planning. Everything they need comes first, parents aren't a priority right now."
The charity said it would back an 'essentials guarantee' to ensure benefits payments cover the basics families need to survive as a bare minimum.
It's being called for by the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who found nine in 10 low-income households on universal credit are currently going without essentials.