NOT so long ago it was pensioners faced with the decision to heat their homes or eat.

Now an estimated 880,000 working parents in England have resorted to skipping meals in the last year in order to cover their mortgage or rent according to research from the housing charity, Shelter.

The charity said that 10.5 per cent of working adults with children said they or their partner had missed meals in the last 12 months to help pay for their home, equating to 880,000 parents, if the figures are projected across the country.

Working parents with children under 18 were asked about steps they had had to take over the last year in order to meet their housing costs.

The charity found that more than one third of working parents were generally cutting back on buying food in a bid to help pay their rent or mortgage, equating to three million parents across England as a whole.

Juli Thompson, project manager of Inn Churches, a network supporting the homeless and vulnerable by providing accommodation in Bradford churches over the winter months, is aware through their work of families’ daily struggles and the increasing demand on food banks within the city.

She says of the 398 referrals they have had through their project up until March this year, she is aware of adults who are skipping meals to feed their children and pay the bills.

“But as good as food parcels are, they are basic ingredients you keep in your store cupboard,” says Juli, referring to the fact that food banks cannot provide essentials such as fresh fruit, meat and vegetables.

And Juli fears with winter approaching the situation may only get worse.

Ben Haldane, project manager of the Bradford Central Food Bank run by the Trussell Trust, says: “We certainly have seen working families coming here needing help from the food bank and obviously the summer holidays can be the hardest time of year because people are having to feed their children when they normally have free school meals. There has been a report by Netmums in the past which has said one in five mums miss meals to feed their children.

“Often there is an assumption that if people are working they will be naturally better off, but the reality is we have zero-hours contracts and a lot more people are in part-time jobs and not bringing in as much as they might be. People are really struggling at the moment.”

Shelter also found 13 per cent of working parents said they had put off buying their children new shoes while 10 per cent, or around 820,000 parents, delayed buying their children a new school uniform in the last year so they could pay their rent or mortgage.

A recent client survey by the Bradford-based debt charity Christians Against Poverty found 70 per cent had sacrificed meals before being helped the by the charity, and 26 per cent said they did so regularly.

Sixty four per cent feared losing their homes; 67 per cent of clients with children couldn’t adequately provide for them, 14 per cent couldn’t feed them properly, and 33 per cent lived on £10 a week or less for food.

A spokesman for Christians Against Poverty says: “Our clients, who tend to be from low-income households, tell us that there are some very stark choices being made and people with mortgages must be very fearful of an interest rate rise.”

“We would recommend anyone with debt problems to contact us or one of the other free debt agencies for help.”

The Government’s English Housing survey recently showed households were spending 28 per cent of their weekly income on housing costs alone, rising to 40 per cent for private renters.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter says: “No parent should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying for the roof over their children’s heads.

“We desperately need the Government to make sure there is a safety net that’s strong enough to catch families who fall on hard times.”

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis says: “Contrary to Shelter’s claims, repossessions are actually at their lowest since 2007 and down almost a third since last year.

“Our efforts to tackle the record deficit we inherited have helped keep interest rates at a record low, meaning home ownership is at its most affordable since 2007 while private rent levels are falling in real terms. On top of this, we’ve got Britain building, with nearly half a million new homes delivered since 2010, including nearly 200,000 affordable homes. Almost 40,000 new homeowners have been created through Help to Buy.”

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