Desperate parents turn to stealing baby formula to keep children fed

Desperate parents turn to stealing baby formula to keep their children fed as black market springs up and one mother even considers selling sexual images of herself to pay for it

  • Some parents are relying on free formula from baby banks or the black market
  • Experts are warning babies face health risks and the cost of formula is a ‘scandal’

Desperate parents are turning to extreme measures such as stealing baby formula from UK stores and selling sexual images amid the cost of living crisis in order to keep their children fed.

A black market for formula products has also sprung up in the UK, where parents are buying products obtained illegally for a lower price.

New data from First Steps Nutrition shows that even the cheapest brand of baby formula has risen in price by 45 percent in the last two years – leaving parents facing impossible choices as they seek to keep their children from going hungry. 

Other brands have risen by between 17 percent and 31 percent, and the number of parents resorting to such measures have led some UK stores to security tag formula or even put it behind the tills alongside cigarettes.

Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service Clare Murphy said parents should not be facing breaking the law or watering down their child’s food, adding: ‘This is a scandal.’

Have YOU had to resort to desperate measures to feed your baby? Email [email protected] 

Many supermarkets have introduced security tags on baby formula products in a bid to prevent thefts

Baby formula has gone up in price by an average of 24 percent in the last two years, according to First Steps Nutrition

An investigation by Sky News revealed a new ‘black market’ for baby formula, with one set of parents saying they regularly purchase it from a ‘fence’ contact, who sells stolen formula for a third of the shelf price.

Speaking to the channel, one mother described how her partner steals formula from supermarkets after the cost of living crisis made it unaffordable.

She is on statutory maternity leave and tried to breastfeed, but her son would not latch on. 

She told Sky News: ‘I just tell my partner what I need, when we need it and he’ll go and do it. There’s always a risk of him being arrested and not coming back,’ she said.

‘And then… we’re stuck.’

Her partner told how he spent weeks working out how to dodge security measures at supermarkets, such as by buying normal groceries and simply not putting one or two items through the till. 

He said: ‘The price of the milk is criminal. Where’s the line? If you’re talking about getting food for your baby, surely that’s not on the wrong side of the line?’

Elsewhere, parents are opting to dilute formula with water, cow’s milk or even condensed milk in order to make it last longer. 

One woman told Sky she was even considering selling sexual images of herself online in order to pay for her baby’s food. 

Others are switching between formulas depending what they can get their hands on, or relying on ‘baby banks’, who give out free baby supplies much like a food bank.

Posts online frequently show parents appealing for formula, or even giving away unused tins to those in need.

But there are concerns that such tins could be out of date, contaminated or even partially used, which could harm a baby by causing infection. 

First Steps Nutrition reports that Healthy Start vouchers, designed to ensure the most vulnerable pregnant women and babies and young children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can access adequately nutritious diets, have not seen their value increase since April 2021.

Some parents are watering down their baby’s formula or adding cow’s or even condensed milk

Pictured beside the e-cigarettes and spirits: Baby formula is hidden behind the counter in Sainsbury’s in stark sign of desperation parents face amid cost-of-living crisis 

There is no plan to increase their value anytime soon. First Steps Nutrition’s research shows there is currently no first infant formulas that are affordable with the Healthy Start allowance, which is £8.50/week, or £34/month.

Ms Murphy warned the UK could be on the verge of a public health crisis as she told Sky News: ‘This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain. This is a scandal.’

Many supermarkets have been placing security tags on baby formula or even keeping them behind tills since last year in a bid to stop thefts. 

In October, a Sainsbury’s in Acton, West London was spotted with formula sitting alongside bottles of champagne and cigarettes behind the counter. 

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: ‘This is just one of a range of security measures we have in place for high value items. The products put behind the till will vary from store to store.’ 

A government spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the impact rising prices are having on families which is why we are providing significant support worth on average £3,300 per household, including holding down energy bills, uplifting benefits and delivering direct cash payments.

‘In April 2021, the value of Healthy Start rose from £3.10 to £4.25 per week, providing additional support to eligible pregnant women and families with children aged under four and over one to make healthy food choices.

‘Those eligible families with children aged under one can receive £8.50 in total, a rise from £6.20 a week.’

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