The number of children in Hackney living in “third-world, Dickensian conditions” is rising, according to a local charity chief.
Ivy Street Family Centre (ISFC) coordinates the Winter Toy Appeal, taking referrals from schools, hostels and social workers across the borough before giving out toys collected by family website StokeyParents.
ISFC manager Claire Reay described poverty levels this year as the “worst they’ve ever seen”, and urged people to donate.
She said: “It’s no exaggeration to say the families we are meeting and hearing about are living in third world, Dickensian conditions.
“It’s a choice between heating or eating for many families – the children get fed but they’re constantly cold – and there’s certainly no money left for toys. Without the Winter Appeal they wouldn’t have a new toy at Christmas.”
Reay said living like this has “massive health implications”, with lots of children ending up in hospital with asthma or chest infections, and she believes many of their parents are malnourished too.
She added: “The parents we meet bring lunch for their children and claim they’re going to eat later – but they have five sugars in their coffees to try to get some energy.”
According to data released by Public Health England last year, more than a quarter of Hackney’s children – an estimated 15,000 aged under 16 – live below the poverty line.
More than 1,500 of those live in temporary accommodation, and Reay says the social and emotional impact can be “enormous”, adding: “As children get older, their friends start to realise that they don’t have a proper place to live – they feel embarrassed.
“They can’t have playdates or bring people back. Often, families cut themselves off from their friends and their communities because they’re proud and they don’t want people to see how bad things have become.”
According to Reay, the problem has been made worse by the higher cost of living, reductions to benefit and an increase in sanctions for those claiming Job Seekers Allowance.
Compared to last year, the list of children eligible for the Winter Toy Appeal has, on average, risen by a third for every agency that refers them.
Last year, the appeal reached 2,000 children – this year they hope to reach 3,000.
Jenna Fansa, who founded the appeal four years ago and promotes it through her website StokeyParents, said: “This is a devastating indictment on the unfairness of our society – the system is broken and it’s causing great harm to children in our community.
“Every child is entitled food, warmth, safety, education and care – but many are going without even these most basic of basics rights.
“Our appeal is a drop in the ocean – but it’s a very clear gesture from people living in and around Hackney that we care greatly for families in our community.
“Every year we are blown away by the kindness of local families but this year, with thousands more children in need, we need help from the wider community.”
The Winter Toy Appeal also collects non-perishable meals for Hackney Food Bank.
The deadline for giving is 14 December.
You can donate a new toy or gift for a child aged 0-18 in person at various drop-off points around the borough, or online through the Amazon wishlist.
Drop-off points include Location Location Estate Agency and Askew Eyewear in Stoke Newington, The Deli Downstairs in Victoria Park, L’Epicerie 56 in Clapton, Bourne’s Fishmongers in Highbury and Vintner’s framers in Crouch End.
For more information, please visit www.wintertoyappeal.com