BPAS calls for end to food bank baby formula ban as ‘vulnerable families risk going hungry’

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Food banks across the UK should be able to both accept and dispense baby formula to those struggling to feed their families during the cost of living crisis, a charity has said.

With fuel prices rising, the cost of basic food items soaring and day-to-day essentials increasing in price, the charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has said “barriers” which may prevent some from taking formula from food banks should be removed.

Food banks follow guidance from the Unicef UK baby friendly initiative, which states that they shouldn’t accept donations of formula milk “due to concerns for the safety of the baby” - an approach not supported by BPAS.

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Food banks follow guidance from the Unicef UK baby friendly initiativeFood banks follow guidance from the Unicef UK baby friendly initiative
Food banks follow guidance from the Unicef UK baby friendly initiative | Mark Hall/National World

As part of the Unicef guidance, food banks are given a list of helplines they can pass on to those trying to access formula milk, including many breastfeeding focused organisations.

However, whilst breastfeeding is a suitable and preferred feeding method for many mothers, BPAS said that for many others it is neither possible nor preferred, and these people need formula milk in order to feed their children.

Molly Boydon, spokesperson for BPAS, said: “Parents across the country are desperately struggling to feed their families, complicated pathways for accessing free formula milk create unnecessary barriers and means babies from some of the most vulnerable families risk going hungry.”

BPAS believes that food banks “should be allowed to accept donations of formula milk and parents should be trusted to identify the needs of their children and feed them accordingly”.

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‘There’s a variety of different products on the market which may not be appropriate for certain babies’

Food bank The Trussell Trust said each food bank should decide individually whether to provide funds to buy infant formula, one of the suggestions made by the Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative.

The guidance says this should only be considered as an option when a family is already receiving input from a health professional, which the Trussell Trust recommends. It added it has  no immediate plans to change its policy.

Infant formula is also currently regulated by Retained Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127.

Rachel Macklin, head of England and Wales at the Trussell Trust, said: “The well-being of anyone needing a food bank is our main priority. As each food bank is an independent charity, it is ultimately their decision as to whether they take donations of formula or provide it.

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“We do not make a judgement on whether babies should have formula or not because we are not medical or health professionals.

“For that reason, we feel it is important for our guidance to mirror the standards set by Unicef which are used in many NHS settings across the UK.

“That’s why we encourage food banks to provide a standard family parcel and refer families with infants to schemes like Healthy Start/Best Start onto local professional services, like health visitors, who are better placed to provide appropriate, holistic support.

“Food banks have referral pathways in place into Healthy Start/Best Start which also enables people to apply online to buy fruit/veg, cow’s milk and formula. We are currently creating and trialling a toolkit to support food banks to help people claim Healthy Start/Best Start where they are eligible now this process has moved online.”

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The Healthy Start scheme is intended to support pregnant women, babies and young children under four from very low income households through a payment of £4.25 per week, which can be used to buy or put towards the cost of milk, including infant formula.

A government spokesperson said that although it’s up to individual food banks providers which donations they make available, it has “published legislation to restrict formula being given out free to families, except in emergency situations, given there’s a variety of different products on the market which may not be appropriate for certain babies – for example, due to their age.”

“Our Healthy Start scheme is available to low-income families, with payments that can be used to purchase milk or baby formula suitable from birth,” the spokesperson added.

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