Infant formula milk is essential to the safety and survival of babies who are not breastfed (When parents are struggling to feed their babies, why don’t all food banks offer formula?, 13 December). Families who are struggling to afford it should not need to go to a food bank for formula, and food bank staff, who are almost all volunteers, should not have to take responsibility for ensuring that families can feed their baby. Families who need formula for their baby need it every day, week in week out, for up to a year.
Food banks can’t guarantee supplies, and their staff can’t be expected to understand which formula milks they should or shouldn’t stock. Giving the wrong milk can put babies at risk. Prescription-only milks can and do end up in food banks, and desperate families, including mothers who are breastfeeding well but are worried about their milk supply, as many do, will take what’s on offer.
The answer is a properly resourced response that offers trained support and ongoing supplies of formula milk to families who can’t afford it. Here in Leicester, the local authority and community organisations are working together to address the need in a sensitive and workable way. Food banks do a great job of reducing food insecurity, but they should not and cannot be expected to provide infant formula – babies are too important.
Food banks are charities. We rely on donated goods and volunteer time, and as the Unicef guidelines point out, this means we are “unable to guarantee a timely or consistent supply of infant formula to meet the baby’s need”. Some food banks distribute vouchers to enable people to buy the formula that best suits their babies’ needs; others purchase appropriate formula on a case-by-case basis, or help families access formula and other ongoing support from partner agencies. Decisions like whether or not, and how, to offer infant formula are not straightforward and they are not taken lightly. Ultimately, each food bank is trying to do its best for the people it supports.
Of course, if there were better statutory provision in place, food banks would not have to make these difficult decisions. Perhaps a better question would be: “Why are parents having to turn to food banks to feed their babies – shouldn’t there be better statutory provision in place to support struggling parents?”
Chief executive, The Welcome Centre, Huddersfield