Mothers 'going without food' or weaning children early so they can eat as formula prices rise

  • Video report by ITV Granada Reports journalist Anna Youssef

Mothers are going without food, watering down formula and weaning babies early in an attempt to save money and feed their children, it has been revealed.

Charities are now urging the government to take action to help young families who are under pressure from the cost of living and struggling to make ends meet.

Mum Gemma Holt says she started weaning daughter Maya early to cut down on the cost of baby formula.

"We were told six months is recommended, but she showed an interest at about four and a half months so we just ran with it," Gemma said.

"So we've managed to bring her bottles down, bring her formula allowance down as well so it has helped with the cost because what we have to eat she has just without the seasoning."

Gemma and her partner both work and are not eligible for benefits.

"I actually resorted to finding online vendors that had stores like cash and carrys," she added.

"I found one in Yorkshire, so I travelled to Halifax to get cheaper formula because it was cheaper to get the discounted formula that was close to date than it was to get two tins from a supermarket and I came home with 10."

Families can claim money from the Healthy Start Scheme which is designed to help pregnant women or families with children under the age of four.

It is means tested, and if eligible families get a prepaid card to use to buy healthy food milk and baby formula.

A family with a child under one would receive £8.50 a week, but campaigners say with the soaring cost of living the government needs to raise those payments to help families who are really struggling.

Single mum Sarah Riley says the money makes a difference to her when it comes to feeding her children - but she says she often goes without food to ensure they eat.

"At least then I know my kids are going to get fruit and vegetables so I know that is always going to be on the table for them," she said.

"Your normal monthly shop has doubled in price so you have to think can you do without that, can you do without this, and then you have to budget even more to make sure the kids don't go without.

"I'm not going to lie, I go without all the time but my kids don't."

Michelle Bromley-Hesketh runs a community cafe and baby bank in Accrington, Lancashire, the Snowdrop Doula project helps more than a thousand families a year.

She says she there is a growing trend of parents watering down formula to make it last, as well as going without food themselves.

"We're seeing people that need to water the formula down to keep it going," she said.

"We are seeing people who are weaning early, perhaps before than is recommended just because it is easier to feed family foods rather than buy formula again.

"I'm also seeing mums that are going without food to be able to feed their child."

Manufacturers of baby formula say prices of the product has risen due to many factors beyond their control such as an increase in raw materials as well as rising energy costs.

Will McMahon, co-founder of Kendamill, the only British-made baby milk manufacturer, said: "We've seen, since March 2020 a very notable increase, not only in raw materials and freight but also severe increases in energy prices.

"This has been brought about through a combination of factors, initially Covid and disruption to supply chain and freight, more recently the war in Ukraine and the impact that has had on energy pricing and also certain grains and oils which you find in a lot of baby formula.

"So when we look at our weighted-average costs today compared to where they were in March 2020 they have increased about 75%.

"I would also say in 2022 we actually lowered the price of some of our best-selling products, we were able to give the consumer the same price but more value, so they got more feeds for their money.

"It doesn't have to be a one-way street and one of our advantages we feel that as a family business we can make these longer-term commitments to families."

Now a Greater Manchester MP has been leading a debate on the issue at Westminster, warning of a public health crisis unless the Healthy Start Scheme is improved.

Andrew Western, Labour's MP for Stretford and Urmston, told others: "As is so often the case, this is a question of money.

"And the money currently being provided by healthy start is simply not enough for struggling parents.

"The solution must therefore be uplifting the value of healthy start, so that the payments recipients receive reflect inflations, and that children, regardless of background, are given the best nutritional start in life possible."

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