A charity has warned that there is an “unprecedented” demand from families for assistance with food during school holidays.

The Salvation Army said it has seen a growing number of children referred to it by teachers, health visitors and GPs.

There are more than 600 locations in the UK where the church and charity are set up, and they are expecting to provide thousands of cooked meals and food parcels to children during the summer

Carol McKean, one of the charity’s community managers in Sheringham, Norfolk, said she had constantly heard the phrase “I’ve never had to claim benefits before” from anxious parents “who look broken asking for help”.

New Forest Post: The Salvation Army are expecting to provide thousands of cooked meals to kids over the summer holiday (PA)The Salvation Army are expecting to provide thousands of cooked meals to kids over the summer holiday (PA)

She added: “I know that, for these people, we are the last resort. They really are short of food for their kids, and some are saying they haven’t eaten for a couple of days so their kids can eat."

The charity’s Lieutenant Colonel Dean Pallant said: “When I hear Salvation Army officers report that ‘people are on the bones of their knees’ and they have seen children who are ‘anorexically thin’ it sounds like something from 1865, when the Salvation Army was founded, not 2022.”

He added that emergency payments from Government to help poorer households with rising energy bills would bring “some desperately needed relief” but “short-term measures only provide a temporary sticking plaster on a long-term crisis”.

“To protect people from sinking further into poverty over time we are calling for all benefits intended to help people on low incomes to keep up with inflation,” he said.

The Salvation Army has also called for existing universal credit debt to be covered by the Government’s 60-day Breathing Space scheme, expansion of free childcare so parents can afford to work, and a new cross-Government taskforce to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.