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Nearly a million children will be deprived of warmth and food during Christmas, says charity

AN AVERAGE of three children in every primary-school class will spend Christmas without the necessities of warmth and nutritious meals, a charity has warned.

Almost a million children under the age of 10 will spend the two-week holiday without heating at home, a warm winter coat or fresh food.

In the absence of free school meals while schools are closed, struggling parents on low incomes are able to spend an average of just £2 a day on food per child, according to Action for Children, which analysed data from the Department of Work and Pensions and Office of National Statistics.

Leanne and her partner from Glasgow both work and have four children under 12.

She started to work part-time night shifts after the birth of her third child, but the family struggles to afford enough food, the charity said.

Leanne initially believed her family would be better off with her in work, “but then all the bills and taxes came in,” she said.

“Despite us both having an income, we had less than ever. I remember saying to my partner that we can’t afford to work.”

Leanne slipped into depression as the family struggled to pay the rent and she often skipped meals herself.

She said her children “were living off chips and plain pasta to fill them up, but it wasn’t healthy. They weren’t getting the fruit and veg they needed. But what else could we do?

“One day, I went to the Action for Children centre and just broke down. That was when my worker got me access to the foodbank. But I was so embarrassed. How was it fair that we are both working, and we are in the foodbank?”

The charity says demand for foodbanks is so high that it is planning to host unofficial foodbanks over the Christmas period, with the Trussell Trust already warning that it is expecting to have “more people than ever” using theirs.

Action for Children chief executive Julie Bentley said: “Politicians are telling us austerity has ended but every day at Action for Children our frontline services say child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember.

“The next government must deliver ambitious policies to end child poverty and bring in a National Childhood Strategy to give all our children a safe and happy childhood.”

Labour announced plans yesterday for “poverty proofing” schools by expanding provision of free breakfasts to all primary schools, and a pilot of the same scheme in secondary schools.

Outside of term time, a new programme would ensure children would have access to meals and sports in the evenings and holidays.

Labour in government would also extend free school meals at secondary school to every child whose family receives benefits, and also cap the cost of expensive school uniforms.

The party would also restore grants to help struggling families with uniform and equipment costs.

The axed Education Maintenance Allowance for teenagers from poorer families in further education would be restored and increased to £35 a week.

Labour’s announcements came as research from the Resolution Foundation think tank found that child poverty would rise to a 60-year high if the Tories’ manifesto was implemented.

This was labelled “ a disgrace” by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who added that Labour would “tackle child poverty while driving up standards in schools by providing extra support to the children who need it most.”

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