05/09/2012 03:32 BST | Updated 05/09/2012 07:51 BST

Save The Children Launches First Campaign In Britain, Says Children Bearing Brunt Of Recession

A major British-based charity has launched its first campaign to help children in the UK

Save The Children's most famous campaigns raised awareness of child concentration camp survivors, starving Ethiopians, the Vietnam War and young Sudanese refugees.

But hunger at home has got so gnawing, the UK charity has been forced to focus a new campaign on children in poverty in Great Britain.

Parents are going hungry to feed their children, unable to buy them warm clothes.

It is the first time in its 93-year history that the charity has appealed to the British public for money to help people who could be living on their own streets, not thousands of miles overseas.

It is hoping to raise £500,000 for the UK's poorest children.

There are an estimated 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, with the shocking figure expected to rise by 400,000 by 2015.

But Conservative MPs have criticised the campaign - calling it "politicised" and blamed child poverty on a culture of welfare dependency.

Save The Children's chief executive Justin Forsyth, a former advisor to ex-prime minister Gordon Brown, said the charity wanted to help those going back to school with holes in their shoes, missing a winter coat and unable to go on school trips because their parents cannot pay for them.

In a new report, It Shouldn't Happen Here, the charity found one in eight of the country's poorest children do not get even one hot meal a day - and one in 10 of the poorest parents go hungry to feed their children.

Children are under intense emotional stress worrying about their parents having enough money, with more than half saying their parents were unhappy.

Around 80% of parents said they were borrowing more money for essentials such as food and clothes.

Almost one in three children in poverty miss out on having friends and 10% of children have parents who cannot afford to celebrate their birthday.

Forsyth said: "Poverty is tearing families apart, with parents buckling under the pressure of mounting bills and children seeing their parents argue more about money. We need to help poor families survive the recession.

"Given that most children living in poverty have at least one parent in work, it is appalling that those parents can't earn enough to give themselves and their kids a decent life.

"All working parents should be able to earn enough to meet the basic needs of their children.

"The government must make work pay by encouraging more employers to introduce a living wage, provide extra childcare support to help parents trying to get into work and protect the poorest and most disadvantaged from further cuts."

child poverty

A young boy plays football in a run down street with boarded up houses in the Govan area of Glasgow

Headteachers said they were concerned for the emotional welfare of their poorest pupils. Celia O’Reilly, principal of St Bernadette’s Primary School in Belfast said: “Despite their best efforts to hide the reality of financial stress from their children, kids are sensitive to their parents’ difficulties.

"They too try not to ask for too much even for essentials on return to school like new shoes, equipment or sports gear.

"As teachers we try to ensure all children are equally included in school life and educational opportunity. No child should miss out on school trips and other opportunities because of their limited family budget.”

Katie Lane, head of policy at the Citizens Advice Bureau, said housing benefits cuts had meant many families had to cut back on essentials, or face getting into debt.

“It’s crucial that the government remains committed to tackling child poverty, protects families from any further cuts and makes sure its welfare reforms are delivered smoothly and really do make work pay.”

Save The Children will provide beds, cookers, cots, toys and other essentials to 3,000 low-income families this year and plan to develop early intervention programmes, lobbying the government to do more to help poor families or "risk betraying the dreams and talents of an entire generation."

Conservative backbencher Douglas Carswell, told the Telegraph he disagreed with the charity's pinpointing of the causes of poverty.

“We have actually spent a very large chunk of taxpayers’ money creating a state of dependency in this country – that’s one of the main causes of child poverty," he said.


“We basically cannot do anything with our children that involves spending more than £10. We live off sandwiches so that our children can have the food and nutrients they need to grow.”

Low-income parent

“I had shoes that were all broken up and full of holes. People at school laughed at me and took the piss. I saved up my own money for my own shoes, but I don’t care about the brand or the make.”

Brendan, aged 13

“When I ask for stuff, my mum tells me to go away. I wish I could just get a whole load of money and give it to her.”

Esther, aged 14

“We have a two-bed terrace, but the baby has to sleep in our room and the other two children have bunk-beds in their room.

"I wish with all my heart we could move to a bigger house, but because of all the financial struggling and therefore missed payments, we have destroyed our credit rating and cannot in any way get a bigger mortgage to give our children a house with their own bedrooms.

"This is my biggest stress and worry, and it breaks my heart that they cannot have their friends to stay or have their own space.”

Low-income parent