23 May 2022
Breadline Voices: Feeding children with special dietary needs on a budget
By Kathleen Kerridge, mother of four, Portsmouth
"Feeding children on a tight budget can be impossibly difficult. Feeding special-needs children on a tight budget is a whole other ballgame, and as prices soar ever higher, parents of children with special dietary needs are growing concerned.
"Sarah, a single mother in her 40s, has two children, both with complex special-needs including problems with their hearts, developmental delays, learning difficulties and gastro-intestinal issues.
"Her only income is her Carer’s Allowance, and PIP (claimed for both her and her daughter - her son was refused PIP, despite having the same disabilities).
"Sarah says feeding her children has always been problematic, but now she fears she will no longer be able to afford to buy the foods she knows they will consume.
"Changing their diet is, she tells me, a terrifying prospect; the one time she needed to access a food bank, neither child ate anything she had been given - enough to cause concern in two children so slender already.
"Their diets aren’t fancy, something I think needs to be stated. These kids like chicken and baby potatoes with greens; baked potatoes with tuna and sweetcorn; fish fillet and salad.
"Their health is, and always has been important to Sarah, but now she finds herself priced out of her local supermarket, and has to walk (despite being severely disabled herself) nearly two miles to get to a Lidl or an Aldi.
"She doesn’t drive; the shopping is dragged home, painfully slowly, in a trolley - taxis and buses are too expensive. What she manages to buy is cooked on a broken second-hand gas stove; only two hobs work, and the oven door doesn’t shut properly. She can’t afford to replace it.
"Watching the price of her weekly shop rise, Sarah feels afraid for the future of her family, and the health of her children.
"She has, in the past, been told not to ‘pander’ to the children; that they will eat, if they get hungry enough. Well-meaning advice, which always seems to come from the mouths of those who can afford to buy food and have choices.
"She asks me why her children should be deprived of the nutritional diets those with more disposable income can enjoy. She asks why she is being told to put their health at risk, because she is poor, then vilified by TV chefs for not being able to afford free-range organic chicken.
"I wish I had more answers for her, as we say goodbye. Her voice is one of many, but I doubt she’ll find much solace in knowing she’s not suffering alone.
"I hope, for her sake, things improve, but for thousands of families with special-needs children, the fear of no longer being able to feed them food they will eat is very, very, real."
This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.