The Metro, 14th December 2023
All families should be able to feed their babies. Yet after 13 years of Tory instability, which has left Britons facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation, many ordinary people are struggling to do so.
The price for infant formula is soaring, with the cheapest brand of formula shooting up by 45% in just two years, way above inflation. This means, on average, a single tin costs an eye-watering £12.
Struggling families are left with no way to buy formula at a discount. It’s a scandal that government regulation prohibits parents and carers from using cash equivalent methods, such as Nectar, Tesco Clubcard and Boots loyalty points, store gift cards, or grocery vouchers provided by foodbanks and local authorities to purchase infant formula.
Under the current guidelines, formula milk products fall into the same category as tobacco and lottery items. The Governments’ Healthy Start vouchers no longer cover the cost of a single tin and foodbanks are having to ration baby milk.
These outdated restrictions intended to incentivise breastfeeding over formula feeding. However, as Metro.co.uk and Feed’s Formula for Change campaign, which calls on the Government to urgently review these regulations, has explained: for many families, breastfeeding simply isn’t an option, leaving many people turning to pricey formula milk.
As an ex-children’s services manager, I know many families will be struggling to make ends meet during this cost of living crisis. That’s why I support Formula For Change’s bid to get the Government to overturn the current policy preventing the price reduction or promotion of formula.
With Labour, retailers will be able to accept loyalty cards and vouchers as payment for infant formula to help families feed their children. The restrictions around the sale of formula are clearly outdated, and we will make it a priority to change them.
Throughout the campaign, we’ve heard from mothers sharing their own experiences of struggling to feed their children.
Tanya Matthews gave birth to her daughter at just 34 weeks via an emergency c-section. Her daughter, Claudia, was rushed into intensive care and spent a further five days in the hospital. Tanya tried to breastfeed her, but the impact of labour combined with her diabetes left her feeling absolutely depleted and turning to formula.
With formula costing so much these days, Tanya is left with little for herself at the end of the month. As a result, she’s forced to skip meals in order to feed her child.
Meanwhile, Alina Popesco is a single mother to four-month-old daughter Leia, and says the cost of infant formula has meant delaying paying her other bills. Like Tanya, Alina struggled to breastfeed Leia so turned to buying formula.
She stated: “I have to put off buying cleaning things for the house, which makes me feel guilty. I want my house to be clean and safe for my daughter, and it’s so upsetting when I realise, I have to take things out of the basket.”
In government, Labour will ensure that regulation is protecting families and their children, not making life more difficult for them. A Labour government will work hard to alleviate this Tory cost of living crisis by putting family finances first. That means helping to cut people’s bills, boost economic growth and alleviate the financial pressures facing families.
The current government’s failure to act on updating these restrictions is yet another example of how women are being disproportionately impacted. Now, women aged 30-39, the peak years for having children, are £4,159 a year worse off.
Nothing has been done to improve gender equality, with the living standards of working women being held back by a gender pay gap of 10.7%. In fact, the gender pay gap has more than doubled over the last year for women workers in their 30s. For full-time women workers in their 20s, it’s now the highest it’s been for over 20 years.
However, we know that changing the regulation surrounding the sale of infant formula is an easy move that will stop making things harder for some women during this cost of living crisis. So why won’t they do it?
As well as updating the restrictions on the sale of infant formula, a Labour government will ensure that, no matter the circumstances, every child gets a healthy start in life. We will roll out breakfast clubs in every primary school in England, funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status.
Evidence shows breakfast clubs embed healthy habits and improve children’s learning and development, boosting performance in maths and reading, alongside improving behaviour and attendance. We want children to start the day with hungry minds, not hungry bellies.
The last Labour government lifted more than a million children out of poverty. The next one will ensure families can afford to feed their children and keep them warm and well.