Cost of living crisis: Sheffield charity Baby Basics concerned at number of families in need in city

As the cost of living continues to rise, leaving many families struggling, one charity in Sheffield which helps parents says its waiting list for items such as cots and prams has never been so long.
CEO of Baby Basics, Cat Ross.CEO of Baby Basics, Cat Ross.
CEO of Baby Basics, Cat Ross.

Cat Ross, the chief executive of Baby Basics, has shared her experiences of helping city families and her concerns as living costs continue to rise.

“Baby Basics Sheffield has been working in the city for the last 13 years supporting vulnerable families with all the practical essentials they need for life with children from 0-5 years.

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Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we saw a huge increase in the need for our service and at the height of the first lockdown we saw a 400 per cent increase in referrals.

Sadly, we are not seeing a drop in our referral rates, in fact we continue to see an increase month on month and our waiting list for cots, and prams/pushchairs (especially double buggies) are the longest they have ever been.

The knock-on effect of the pandemic now mixed with the rise in cost of living that we are all facing means that we expect more and more families to need our support over the coming weeks and months.

In the first quarter of 2022 we have supported over 2,500 children and their families which is 28 per cent increase on the last quarter of 2021 and with this continued increase we anticipate in 2022 we will support over 15,000 children in our city.

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We work through referrals from health and social care professionals and therefore we do not meet the families that we ultimately support, however, we hear from our partner professionals about the difficult situations the families face. No family should have to choose between food and warmth, we consistently receive referrals for warm clothing and blankets to keep children warm when families cannot afford to put the heating on.

No family should have to worry about where their child will sleep and if they will be safe at night. In just the last few weeks we have received numerous referrals for families for beds and cots, where children are sleeping on sofas, on cushions on the floor or having to share beds with older siblings in over-crowded houses. Bed poverty is real and there are limited organisations in the city to help with this. Safe sleep is so important and lack of it not only affects children in their ability to learn and develop, but increases exhaustion, anxiety and stress on parents.

No family should struggle to keep themselves clean, we regularly receive referrals for families who are reusing disposable nappies because they don’t have the supplies they need or for mums who are washing their hair with washing up liquid because that is all they have.

No parent should have to worry about how they will safely take their newborn baby to clinic, do the school run with their toddler in tow, or access their community opportunities because they don’t have a pram or pushchair.

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The families we support are facing all sorts of challenges, they could be refugees, families seeking asylum, families fleeing domestic violence but more often than not they are families who just can’t make ends meet. But let’s be clear not all of these families are living on Government support, increasingly we are supporting families where one or both parents are working and still struggle.

Child poverty in this city is on the increase, the £20 cut in universal credit payments, the instability of zero hours contracts, the ongoing effects of Covid, and now the energy price increases and cost of living rises, are all playing their part. We need to remember that the needs of people in poverty are more than just food.

Along with toiletries, prams and sleep referrals, clothing is always the biggest need. Sadly, at the end of 2021 we lost the wonderful Sharewear charity from the city, which means we have NO clothing bank in the city. Yes, we have plenty of charity shops selling clothes cheaply but for many families this is still too expensive for them. It breaks our hearts when we receive referrals for families including children over five years and we cannot help those children. As much as we would love to be able to provide for over fives we just do not have the space or capacity to do so and now have nowhere to direct the families to for help.

It is not all doom and gloom, we receive amazing support from the people, groups, schools and businesses of Sheffield who are so generous in helping us with donations we need each week and our seasonal campaigns and we cannot thank everyone enough.

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No child or parent should have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, whether they will be warm in bed tonight, whether they have clothes to wear or toys to play with, can wash their hair today, or safely get their baby to a clinic check up.

Our aim is always that in the future we will not have to exist at all, but we do not see this becoming a reality any time soon. Until a real change is made to ensure that families are able to afford to live with dignity and provide for themselves we are committed to being there for them and for the health and social care professionals who support them.”

Cat Ross CEO