British Charity 'Overwhelmed' by Number of Destitute

A British charity has called on Prime Minister David Cameron's new coalition government to review policies that have left large numbers of women and children homeless and destitute for years at a time.

Staff at the Children's Society of the UK say that they are "overwhelmed" by the growing numbers of families, often with babies and young children, who lack essentials such as food, housing and other basic needs to survive.

The group, which detailed their findings in a report published yesterday, attributes the social problems in part to Britain's "chaotic" asylum system, which either denies needy families support or limits them to an amount that is "internationally recognized as being inadequate to meet basic human needs."

"Mothers are being forced into prostitution to survive; young people in care are being cut off from any help and becoming homeless at the age of 18, while in some cases pregnant women cannot afford to eat," the group said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The Children's Society also said that the government acknowledges such problems are rising, as their latest figures reveal nearly 12,000 applicants surviving on bare minimum public support.

Even so, there are many more families that get no help at all, the group says, noting that many of the children they encounter are faced with a choice to either remain with their parents in desolation or to be taken into care without them.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's Society, says: "This report is based on the hard, bitter experience of working with destitute families over the last year. Staff based at our projects say they are overwhelmed by the scale of the distress they are dealing with. We call on the new Government to review these policies which are leaving children and families without financial support for years, in some cases."

David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, told of his recent encounter with a destitute family, saying that they had come to the UK "hoping they would find safety and a better future [but] have ended up living in squalor, struggling to survive."

"Although her son is now in school and they have somewhere to live, the isolation of the past few years is still clearly traumatic and she remains deeply vulnerable," Urquhart told British online news agency Ekklesia.

According to Urquhart, a "free and responsible society" must provide its children with basic living essentials.

"Birmingham prides itself on being a compassionate, generous and welcoming city but open-ended support for people in trouble can be contentious," he said. "Nonetheless, the Christian gospel emphasises care for the stranger and practical support for refugees."

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