Universal credit takes its toll on new parents - but baby banks are there to step in
- Credit: Suffolk Baby Bank
Food banks have become increasingly needed - and now baby banks are in growing demand across Suffolk to help families on the breadline.
Universal Credit is being mentioned as a key factor by the charities striving to help hard-pressed parents of babies and young children.
They provide essential items such as nappies, clothes, bedding, buggies and stairgates, and are asking for more people to donate.
Klaire Bailey is the founder of Suffolk Baby Bank, which is based in Bury St Edmunds, but helps families across the whole county, as well as overlapping into Norfolk.
A group of volunteers have been helping local mums and fundraising for several years, and officially set up Suffolk Baby Bank in January.
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“It was only with our youngest children all going to school at once that we decided to give Suffolk Baby Bank a permanent space” she said. Klaire, Sarah Nayler, Laura Bee, Oliver Peck and Henni Wilcox are the main team.
Klaire described the situation facing many families as a “national crisis”, and said it was not just people on out-of-work benefits who needed help, but also those on low wages.
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“They are proud people. People who are struggling to support their family. It could be parents who have recently had a job change, or have had a bereavement or an illness,
“Also, the new rules with Universal Credit mean people are having to wait for a long time for a payment.”
The charity is planning drop-in events at local food banks and other venues, where families collecting food will be able to collect items they need at the same time.
‘I could not believe how much we were given - I cried’
One reason why some mothers need help is domestic abuse. One mum, Susan (not her real name) said: “I fled with my children, with the clothes on our backs and my baby in my arms, after I was beaten for the last time, holding the baby and not wanting sex. I now work and my children are living without the fear that used to threaten us every minute.”
She said she had first asked for help in 2015. “I needed school uniform and clothes. I had nothing, with no support from their father and after moving to safety. Suffolk Baby Bank went above and beyond. The bags we got were full of lovely clothes and coats. There were toys and shoes.
“I could not believe how much we were given. I cried. My children were so very happy with all their new things. They had left everything when we left.
“I have been supported three times by Klaire and the baby bank, including her taking me to get breakfast after I lost my job and the new Universal Credit time scale meant we had nothing. The kids knew I wasn’t eating, just feeding them.
“I reached breaking point, and I reached out again to the baby bank. She fed me and brought me essential foods for a few days so I could wait for the food bank to open. I then found a new job, while waiting for that to even be processed, and needed clothes for it. Again they helped me.”
Susan added: “I can’t tell you how much it has meant to have them help us, because there are no words for it. Especially Klaire and Sarah. They are angels on the earth.”
Suffolk Baby Bank - contact details
The baby bank has a website and a Facebook page, @SuffolkBabyBank. It currently has drop-off points for donations in West Stow, Thurston and Glemsford, and new drop-off points in Hadleigh and Newmarket will be available mid-April.
It regularly posts information on Facebook about the items which are currently needed.
Parents can be referred via professionals such as health visitors, midwives, social workers and schools. Other local charities such as Homestart and Women’s Aid also make referrals, and parents can also self refer via the website or Facebook.
Helping parents in the Sudbury area
Another baby bank, Abi’s Footprints, based in the Sudbury area, has been going for two years.
The project is run by New Life Church in Great Cornard, and named in memory of baby Abigail, who was the stillborn daughter of members of the church.
It supports families in the Sudbury area in difficult circumstances, to meet the practical needs of new babies and under-threes.
It provides Moses baskets with essential clothing, bedding and toiletries for newborns, as well as clothing and bedding for older babies, and larger equipment such as cots and buggies, donated by members of the community.
Gill Soper, group co-ordinator, said the project had started after health visitors and children’s centres confirmed there was a real need in the area.
She said: “Some have just come unstuck because of Universal Credit. Some are young single mums, or people whose circumstances have changed, and some are working families. It varies a lot.”
The group started off by using a 20ft shipping container, then a year ago moved into a workshop in Stour Valley Business Centre.
Gill said: “Now we have grown out of that as well. We want to broaden out what we are able to offer. At the moment we provide pretty well everything for children from birth to three, but we want to start to do school uniforms and a drop-in.”
Abi’s Footprints Baby Bank is part of a wider community programme run by New Life Church in Great Cornard that includes work in two local primary schools, several free annual family events and a free Easter holiday club.
Abi’s Footprints - contact details
To donate, you can contact Abi’s Footprints via its website or Facebook page, @AbisFootprints. It regularly publicises the items it is looking for on Facebook. Stairgates are an item that is particularly needed.
If you need help, you can contact the group through a midwife, health visitor or the staff at Phoenix or Cornfields Children’s Centres.
Baskets full of essentials for new mums and babies
Meanwhile The Moses Project, a volunteer-led project which is based in Mid Suffolk, helps mothers across the county who are referred to its service.
It comes under the Forge Community Church, which is based in Debenham, Thurston and Eye, but is run separately. The project provides a Moses basket full of essentials, usually to expectant mums who are in need but also sometimes after the baby has been born. The baskets include essentials for mums, such as hand cream and breast pads, as well as baby products like clothes and nappies.
Organiser Rebekkah Dyer said: “There are mums who are struggling financially, refugees who haven’t yet got onto the benefits and housing system, and young mums who are leaving care.”
She said they also helped mothers who had come away from situations of domestic abuse.
“It has surprised me, the level of poverty in the UK,” Rebekkah said. “In the early days, we sometimes used to deliver direct, and I have gone into homes with no carpets on the floors, which would soon have a baby crawling around.”
The Moses Project - contact details
If you would like to donate, the baby bank posts on its Facebook page, @themosesproject, about the items it needs to fill its Moses baskets for mothers and new babies.
It has drop-off points at The Mix in Ipswich Street, Stowmarket, Wellington Children’s Centre in Chevallier Street, Ipswich, Anglia Indoor Karting, also in Ipswich, and Plinth Medical in Occold.
Mothers who need help are asked to have a word with their midwife. Referrals also come via other professionals, including health visitors and social services.