Thousands of children in the UK are being thrown into destitution and are growing up in households without adequate food or heating. In some cases pregnant women cannot even afford to eat, a church agency has said.
The Children’s Society’s network of projects across the country say they are being approached by increasing numbers of children, young people and their families who have fallen into destitution.
The society says their experience mirrors the trend of increasing numbers of destitute children and families across the UK.
The crisis is revealed in a new report about The Children’s Society’s West Midlands Destitution Project, published yesterday.
The report reveals that in the first year of its operation across the West Midlands, the project helped 264 children whose families have no means of survival because the adults have been unable to get the help they need from the state, and are not allowed to work or claim benefits.
Families were provided with crisis grants and resources, as well as supported to access advice to help them resolve their situation.
Demand increased rapidly throughout the year with staff doing intensive casework with 13 families in the first three months, 23 families in the second quarter, 44 in the third and 42 in the fourth.
Staff at The Children's Society’s centres helping destitute children and families say that they are "overwhelmed" by the growing numbers of families, often with babies and young children, who lack essentials such as food, housing and other basic essentials such as nappies and clothes, that they need to survive.
The rise in destitution is often caused by Britain’s chaotic asylum system either denying the families support or limiting them to an amount that is internationally recognised as being inadequate to meet basic human needs.
As a result, thousands of children are being thrown into destitution and are growing up in households without adequate food, heating or toys. Mothers are being forced into prostitution to survive; young people in care are being cut off from any help and becoming homeless at the age of 18, while in some cases, pregnant women cannot afford to eat.
People who are refused asylum but cannot return home immediately are banned from working by the British Government. They can apply for Section 4, which offers ‘hard case’ support, under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This often consists of hostel accommodation which is inappropriate for raising children, and a small amount in vouchers every two weeks. Pregnant women do not automatically get support for their infants - there are often delays so they often do not have enough to get the baby milk, clothes and nappies they need.
The Government acknowledges the number of children in this predicament is rising. Latest figures show that in the last three months of 2009, 11,655 applicants, excluding dependants, were surviving on the bare minimum Section 4 Support, 13 per cent up on a year before.
However, many other families get no help at all. Under Schedule 3 (Nationality, immigration and asylum act 2002) there are a number of groups who are excluded from local authority support.
Local Authorities have an obligation to ensure the welfare of children in their area - but for many children with whom The Children's Society works, the only offer of support is to take them into care, which leaves the parents without support. This means that children must remain destitute with their parents, or go into care without them.
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society, says: "This report is based on the hard, bitter experience of working with destitute families over the last year. Staff based at our projects say they are overwhelmed by the scale of the distress they are dealing with. We call on the new Government to review these policies which are leaving children and families without financial support for years, in some cases".