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Born on the Breadline

Born on the Breadline
Back to ‘Our Films’
26 minutes
Sunnah Khan
Jess Stevenson
Executive Producer:
Brian Woods

Austerity may be “over”, but Dispatches can reveal that over 35,000 parents are now reliant on baby banks to provide their young children with basics like nappies, clothes, food and prams.  

We reveal that there are now over a 100 baby banks in the UK, the vast majority of which have had to be set up since the austerity programme began. For the first time Dispatches has surveyed these baby banks, to get a sense of the population they are serving, and the services they are providing.  The results of this ground-breaking survey show demand has dramatically increased over the last five years. We meet working parents who can’t afford the most basic essentials and have to rely on baby banks to provide for their children.
  • Over 35,000 families have been referred to baby banks so far this year alone
  • Referrals have increased by over 500% in the last 5 years
  • At least a quarter of a million items distributed to families in need
  • Value of the goods distributed is in excess of £1.8 million
  • The majority of referrals come from publically-funded agencies - which are identifying need, but are unable to meet it
  • The most sought after items are for the most basic needs - nappies and clothes
SOPHIA started Little Village two years ago, in an inner London borough riddled with poverty. Founded on the belief that every child deserves the best start in life, Little Village now provides essential provisions for families with children under five - half of which are homeless or in temporary accommodation. Week after week she hears stories of families crippled by a perfect storm of austerity, low wages and the benefit freeze - children in shoes two sizes too small, mothers rationing nappies. Essential as Little Village is to these families, Sophia doesn’t think it’s a long term solution - “We are a sticking plaster… employers need to pay good wages, the welfare state should be a safety net.”

FREDERICA is a single mum who uses a baby bank for nappies, clothes and toys for her six-month old Skylah. She is struggling to get by on her monthly Universal Credit payment and says that once she’s paid all her bills and bought food for her and Skylah, there’s nothing left. She has to borrow from friends to get by and can’t wait to get back to work, so she can start to build a better life for her little girl - “That’s my one thing, I don’t want her to go without”.

KEITH had a steady job as a decorator- but a car accident a little over a year ago put him out of work for months. During that time his savings depleted, and by Christmas the family had nothing- with a baby on the way, and an autistic older child who needs constant care and support. Keith is now trying to rebuild the financial security he’s lost. But the hours are limited, the salary low, and every missed payment brings in further fees. He depends on Little Village to support his children, an adjustment he finds difficult – “I’ve always been a proud person, I’ve always helped support charities in my life, but now having to take, receive stuff from charities is hard.”

BIANCA is a working mum of two boys living in London - one of the most expensive cities in the world. With a baby on the way in two months, Bianca will have to leave her full time job as a special needs teacher. She’s already on a wage which leaves her with next to nothing at the end of the month after paying her private rent and bills. Stressed about how she is going to provide for number three, her midwife has given her a flyer for the baby bank Little Village. They will provide a lifeline, but Bianca is still frustrated. “I’m a working parent, and I work hard, but I can't even afford the basics for my baby… it makes me angry because I shouldn’t have to struggle.”

Mum of three KERI gave birth to her youngest, Grayson, two months early in Glasgow. He’s still in hospital and Keri is both looking forward to him coming home and stressed about having so little for him to come home to. A lone parent on benefits, she struggles to afford the bus fare to the hospital to visit her son every day, let alone buy the essentials for a premature baby. But her resilience shines through - “all you can do is get up every day and keep going”. A working mum for most of her life, Keri struggled to get back to work after losing her daughter to cot death four years ago. Baby bank Birth, Baby & Beyond have offered her an emergency pack for Grayson, which will give her all the essentials. Keri dreads to think where she’d be without it.

JANE runs Tiny Hands, a Yorkshire baby bank, out of a shed in her back garden. Initially meant to be a side project, the work quickly became full time as she realised just how families needed her help.  She’s been shocked by how desperate some of the people are that have come to her. She recounts how one woman, going into hospital to give birth, didn’t even have an outfit to bring the baby home in.  But she’s also been warmed by the generosity of the local community, and as need seems to be growing, she’s considering the need to expand the baby bank further.

And AUDREY, an addictions support worker in Glasgow, set up Glasgow’s No1 Support Service nearly two years ago and they have never been busier - “There’s a dire need for services like this and it’s so sad and so wrong”. An outspoken critic of the baby box scheme, Audrey thinks politicians need to wake up to the reality of poverty which she says is rife and on the increase. Parents nowadays, she says, “don’t have a chance in hell of standing on their own too feet”.  “Life, children, babies, they don’t come with an instruction manual. They come with a parent. And it’s down to that parent to make the most of it. How can they do that with nothing?”

KAMEKA is a single mother, raising three children. Struggling with health problems, she is unable to work and care for the children- leaving her dependent on benefits that are quickly eaten up by rent and bills. Her eldest child struggles with learning difficulties, and her youngest with club foot. Little Village provides her with basic items, but also with the books and toys she wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford- and which are vital to supplementing her children’s education. 

We have undertaken the first ever survey of Baby Banks in the UK.

Click on the report to read in full (embargoed until 0.01 29/10/18):-

Where is you nearest Baby Bank?

We have mapped all the Baby Banks and NCT Baby Bundles we have been able to identify.  Not all of these took part in our survey.  Use this map to find your nearest Baby Bank.  And please let us know by emailing if you run a Baby Bank not on this map, which you would like added.  You can also embed this map on your own website.

No Minster or Conservative MP was available to respond to the findings in the film or the accompanying report. However the Department of Work and Pensions issued this statement.