Desperate parents turn to 'baby banks' amid cost-of-living crisis

Baby banks are busier than ever before as young parents struggle to make ends meet amid the cost-of-living crisis. ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

A baby left with pressure sores because their family had to ration nappies; a child sleeping in a drawer because their family didn't have the money to buy a bed; and a parent forced to re-use dirty nappies because they couldn't afford fresh ones.

These are some of the desperate measures families in the UK are taking as they struggle through the cost-of-living crisis, according to research shared exclusively with ITV News.

The findings come from a survey of baby banks across the UK, conducted by the charity Little Village, which runs a network of baby banks in London. Of the 55 that responded, over 90% said that 2022 is their busiest year yet.

Similar to a food bank, a baby bank provides essential items for families who can't afford them. They offer clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children up to the age of five. They accept donations, which are passed on to families who need support.

Parents in need can collect up to 40 items at a time every three months until a child is five years old Credit: ITV News

The survey revealed some of the struggles experienced by families who are supported by baby banks across the UK:

  • In the north-east of England a child was left with a grade three pressure sore due to extreme rationing of nappies

  • A parent in Gloucestershire was reusing nappies soiled with excrement because they couldn't afford fresh ones

  • In Lincolnshire, a family requested a bed as their child was sleeping in a drawer because they could not afford to provide one

  • One family in Somerset was using sanitary towels as nappies as they had no spare money to buy nappies

  • In Derbyshire, a mum-of-three was unable to afford to heat her home, so went to the baby bank to keep warm for a few hours

  • In Oxfordshire some families are not giving their children a hot meal each day as they can't afford to turn the oven on

People are desperate for blankets and warm baby clothes as they can't afford to keep their home warm. Credit: ITV News

The north-east of England has the highest child poverty rate in the UK with almost 40 per cent of children living below the poverty line.                    

Leanne Carten is a full-time mother to four children, under the age of 10, and receives universal credit. She's come to the Hartlepool baby bank to get warm pyjamas and blankets for her kids.

"At the moment with gas and electric going up so high, we can't afford to put the gas on, so we need warm pyjamas, they've just given us some onesies for the children and blankets, because we just can't afford to put the gas on.

"It feels like we're going back in time when people did struggle and were on rations, it shouldn't be like that now. We shouldn't be having to struggle as much as we are.

"I've suffered, sometimes I just sit there and cry because I think I'm not doing the best for them, I should be able to do more and it's heartbreaking.

"They want to go to after-school clubs and I can't afford to send them. It makes me feel, as a parent, like I'm not doing what I should be doing, but unfortunately I just can't do it."

Little Village provides clothes, toys and equipment for babies and young children in London. Credit: ITV News

Emilie De Bruijn started the Hartlepool baby bank three years ago and has never been busier.

"We've had another 30 families in today, it's hard, it's tiring, it's exhausting, those stories go home with me.

"It's the fear. People are actually genuinely afraid of putting the heating on, they're actually afraid of putting the lights on, it's awful, it's absolutely awful. Some days I've cried. I'm having to consider what happens if I can't help those people, does that child go cold? Does that child not have a safe place to sleep? That weighs on me."

Since Little Village launched in London in 2016, it has supported over 25,000 children across the capital. Adeola Mukaila came to their baby bank in Hackney, east London, in need of warm clothes for her eight-month-old son, Hamir. She's living in temporary accommodation with her three children, waiting for her asylum application to be processed.

She starts to cry as she explains how she struggles to pay for basics for her kids, like food, shoes, and sterilising equipment for her baby's bottles.

"The stress is too much, too much for me. There was a time I was so depressed, I couldn't sleep, I'm always crying."

Mina Rezai couldn't afford a rain cover for her two-year-old daughter's buggy, but a Little Village baby bank helped her.

"Everything is difficult today - energy bills, buying food, buying clothes, rent. It's very difficult.

"Sometimes I am crying about my baby over simple things, for example if my baby hasn't got toys or wants some toys, I'm crying. I think being a mum is very difficult."

The survey asked baby banks what they thought about the government's support package to address the cost-of-living crisis, including the £2,500 price cap on energy bills. Of those asked, 72% of baby banks said it was too little, too late.

Little Village CEO Sophie Livingstone. Credit: ITV News

CEO of Little Village, Sophie Livingstone MBE, said: "Our survey paints an extremely bleak picture of families living in extreme poverty in this country. Babies left in filthy nappies because their parents can't afford to replace them; young children in pain because their families can't afford to buy Calpol; others living in cold, dark, unsafe homes.

"It doesn't have to be this way and I would urge the government to take immediate action to address this hidden crisis of extreme child poverty. Bankers' pockets are getting fatter, whilst babies are going cold and hungry.

We would like to see the uplift to universal credit reinstated and as well as changes to the systems that trap people in poverty, such as unaffordable housing and childcare."

"For people who want to know how to help, there are baby banks across the country in urgent need of donated items, financial donations and volunteers.

"Many of these services are really struggling as many people can no longer afford to donate their time, money or items as the cost-of-living continues to rise."

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise that people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments and saving the average household around £1,000 a year through our new Energy Price Guarantee.

“Vulnerable families in England are also being supported by the government’s Household Support Fund – which was boosted by £500million - to help pay for essentials and latest figures show that there were 200,000 fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs compared to 2019/20.”

To donate to Little Village, visit littlevillage.enthuse.com