Baby banks demand help for UK's financially pressured families
Catherine Drew in London

Charities in the UK are calling for more help for struggling families with young children, amid concern about the rising prices of baby essentials, particularly baby formula. Baby banks, where parents can pick up clothing and food, have reported an increased demand for help.  

"With winter approaching, we know people will get huge energy bills, and we know the demand on our services will at least triple," Samia Bandani tells CGTN Europe. She's the co-founder of the well-being charity The Space which was formed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the apartment block fire that killed 72 people in 2017 and left a community traumatized.  

Since then it's helped thousands of people by offering community activities, outreach and counselling.  

Nearly two years ago it launched its first baby bank, a service which has grown to help 500 families a week across four London boroughs. Requests for help come in from across the capital.

"I think we've got a huge national crisis where the most vulnerable people in our community, we're talking about babies from birth to the age of five, have the worst start in life because of the cost of living crisis," Badani tells CGTN Europe. 

As Badani speaks to us, women come into the welcoming center in west London. Decked out with clothes, equipment and food, it is a hub where people can donate items and where those items can be distributed to where they are needed. 

One local resident, who did not want to be identified, was picking up food and clothing. She said the cost of nappies and formula for her newborn and 18-month-old cost around USD $365 a month, putting the family under huge pressure.

Baby bank customer Sarah Boyce popped in to get supplies for her 20 month old daughter. She told CGTN Europe the bank is a lifeline for her.  

She said: "I feel panicky, when she's down to the last five nappies, if she hasn't got nappies and milk, or when she's running out of clothes, or her clothes start getting too small, I start panicking. So I love this place because they're so friendly and they help you."

Some baby formulas have gone up 45% in price. /CGTN
Some baby formulas have gone up 45% in price. /CGTN

Some baby formulas have gone up 45% in price. /CGTN

The First Steps Nutrition Trust says the cost of baby formula was rising before global shocks prompted widespread food price increases, with an average price rise of 24 percent over two years, with some brands rising 45 percent. The resulting rise in the theft of baby formula from shops has been raised in the UK parliament, prompting an official investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into baby formula pricing. The investigation is currently on-going.

Some groups fear struggling families are feeding their babies less or using incorrect products, which carry both health and developmental risks. 

"We need to make sure that we're doing as much as possible to sort of insulate those products from the worst of the food price inflation," Rebecca Tobi from the Food Foundation told CGTN. The group, which works to make sure everyone has access to sustainable and healthy food is calling for the UK government to increase targeted help.    

"Certainly we see there being a role for government here in terms of making sure that the nutritional safety net to support those very lowest income households that most need the support, that they are receiving, that help," said Tobi.

The British government says it's urgently working to tackle high inflation and says it's provided funds to local councils and directly to families for the purchase of food. However, charities say the healthy start voucher doesn't cover the cost of even the cheapest brands.

Multinationals Danone and Nestle dominate the UK baby food market. Both issued statements to CGTN Europe saying they have developed value for money products and are working hard to keep costs as low as possible.  

But those on the frontlines say they are bracing for the coming winter, knowing the colder months and on-going cost of living crisis are going to drive more desperate families to seek their help.

Baby banks demand help for UK's financially pressured families

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