The Heartbreaking Reality Of Parents Stealing Baby Formula Because They Can't Afford It

“The price of the milk is criminal. Where’s the line?" one desperate father told Sky News.
Carol Yepes via Getty Images

Infant formula is without a doubt one of the most expensive items on the shopping list for many parents.

The cost has soared over the last year – with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by more than 22%.

For those who have no choice but to feed their baby infant formula, yet are struggling to afford the rising cost of everything – from groceries to energy bills to fuel – theft is the only other way to ensure their little one stays fed.

One desperate dad, who preferred not to share his name, told Sky News he has resorted to stealing formula milk to feed his baby: “I was trying to make the milk last, so I wasn’t putting as much powder in as it said to. In my head, I was thinking, ‘F*** that. I am just going to go and steal him some’.”

The parent revealed how he would buy £20 worth of groceries and then, at the self-checkout, wouldn’t put a couple of the items through the till because he couldn’t afford it.

“The price of the milk is criminal. Where’s the line? If you’re talking about getting food for your baby, surely that’s not on the wrong side of the line?” he said.

The boy’s mum, who is on statutory maternity leave from her job as a retail assistant, told the news site they only steal “when we’re really desperate”.

She added that she’d tried hard to breastfeed but her son couldn’t latch properly, so formula became the only way to feed him.

Between August 2021 and November 2022, an analysis by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) found Mamia First Infant Milk (900g from Aldi) – considered to be the cheapest infant formula on the market – increased from £6.99 to £8.49.

Meanwhile Aptamil 1 First Milk (800g) increased from £11.50 to £13.50, Cow & Gate First Infant Milk (800g at Boots) increased from £8.75 to £10 and SMA Little Steps First Infant Milk (800g at Tesco) rose from £8.25 to £9.

With most parents needing to buy a new tub of formula every week, this can soon add up. Over the course of the year you can end up spending anywhere between £412 to £650.

In February, HuffPost UK reported it had got to the point where the product was so expensive – and people were so desperate – that shops were putting empty boxes of infant formula on the shelves and locking the actual products behind the tills to prevent theft.

Baby banks had also reported enormous increases in referrals for parents struggling to feed their little ones. On top of this, some of the largest food bank networks – including the Trussell Trust and Fareshare – have policies in place which prevent their food banks from redistributing formula donations.

There are concerns that the high costs of formula and the cost of living crisis are forcing families to resort to unsafe feeding practices including skipping feeds, watering down formula or adding cereal.

For low income households or those on Universal Credit, some help is available in the form of Healthy Start vouchers – however the cash value of these vouchers is £8.50 per week, which is no longer enough to cover the cost of most types of infant formula.

In December 2022, charities called for the value of Healthy Start allowance to increase to £10 a week to more realistically support families with formula-dependent infants. The last increase was in April 2021, when the value of vouchers for parents of children aged under one rose from £6.20 a week to £8.50.

However HuffPost UK understands there are no plans by the government to change this. A spokesperson told us in February: “We are committed to promoting a healthy diet for children and providing support to families who need it the most through our Healthy Start scheme.

“The government is also supporting people with the cost-of-living crisis with £1,200 for the most vulnerable households.”