Fear families will struggle through summer as cost of living pressures hit
Instead of looking forward to their summer holidays families across the county are frightened the break will mean a final push into poverty.
Food bank bosses, charity groups and politicians have warned the next six weeks will put families under even greater pressure.
It comes as food banks in west Norfolk were forced to hand out "no cook" parcels because some parents could not afford to switch on the oven.
Hannah Worsley, project manager at the Norwich Foodbank, said the situation this summer is even worse than last year.
She said: “The cost of living, the cost of food, and petrol prices have gone up and now there are a lot of people that do not know what they are going to do with their kids to keep them entertained through the summer.
“I wouldn’t like to say it’s the worst year ever but the demand is certainly higher than last year."
She and her colleagues are trying to signpost families to summer events with activities and food.
However the support can only go so far and not all options are free.
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“You can say it is only £3 a session but that all adds up. In some cases it might be that the parent has to attend the event which means they can’t go to work.
“Low cost is still a barrier to some people but a lot of groups can’t afford to run for free either.
“And even if a group is free it won’t be every day for six weeks, that wouldn’t be possible,” Ms Worsley explained.
Ms Worsley said the charity sector and religious groups like churches are being relied on more and more.
In turn this makes it difficult for the government to see how precarious the situation for many families truly is.
Meanwhile many household staples have seen dramatic price rises in recent months, with eggs and pasta up 8.5pc and 16pc over three months ago.
Mark Hitchcock, chief executive of Norfolk Citizens Advice, said: "We have never had a greater demand for our services and we clearly expect more challenges as the year goes on.
"Families will feel the pressure more while they need to look after the kids for six weeks without the support and the meals that school gives them."
He called on those in financial difficulty not to be shy or embarrassed but to reach out and see what help is available.
Labour county councillor for Yarmouth Nelson and Southtown, Mike Smith-Clare, said he was "inundated" with calls and messages from worried parents and carers who were not sure how they would survive the holidays.
He said: “Families are struggling like never before. Struggling to put food on their tables, struggling to pay bills and basically struggling to stay afloat.
"Not just because of holiday costs but the expense of new uniforms.
“Kids and their families should be looking forward to the holidays - not frightened of them - and while it’s great that there are a number of schemes helping them over the six weeks, for many it will be a nightmare.
“Summer poverty is not fun - it’s a hideous and painful reality; one which needs to end.”
Norfolk County Council was contacted and asked what resources are available, if it was confident it could support families through the summer and if more resources were needed from central government.
The authority did not provide any new comment, instead pointing to previous statements.
These stated a range of activities are available for children as part of the 'big Norfolk holiday fun' scheme, including lunch for children eligible for free school meals.
Previous announcements also said the county council has a £7.7m package to support people facing challenges from the rising cost of living.
This includes a £30 voucher in August for children receiving free school meals.
What's it like for parents?
Emma Armstrong, a mother from Great Yarmouth, is an unpaid carer for her daughter, Amber.
Amber, aged 20, was diagnosed with autism when she was three years old. Since then she has also been diagnosed with ADHD, gender dysmorphia, sensory perception disorder and specific learning difficulties.
Amber did not talk until she was seven and only started reading aged nine.
With schools and colleges closed for the summer holidays, the Yarmouth mum said she was anxious about how she is going to cope with looking after her daughter without any prospect of a break.
Ms Armstong said: “Amber is now classed as an adult but the system does not seem to understand that she is actually a 12-year-old in a 20-year-old’s body.
"It is not healthy for her to be with us all the time. She has no routine.”
Previously the family had a support network of friends and family but moved to Great Yarmouth from South Cambridgeshire to reduce their cost of living.
Ms Armstrong has received support from Caring Together, a charity which supports unpaid carers in Norfolk.
Who to contact if you are struggling
To contact Citizens Advice call 0800 144 8848 or go to ncab.org.uk.
A Norfolk Assistance Scheme is available to adult residents who are in financial hardship and the Norfolk Household Support Fund makes grants of £50 per household available, predominantly for older people.
Caring Together, a charity which supports unpaid carers in Norfolk can be contacted on 0345 241 0954 or visit caringtogether.org.
Support available from the county council can be found at norfolk.gov.uk/what-we-do-and-how-we-work/campaigns/help-with-living-costs
A list of food banks run by the Trussell Trust can be found at trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/