Save the Children, the charity set up to support young people in the developing world, has launched its first fundraising drive to help UK families struggling in the grip of recession.

The UK’s poorest children are bearing the greatest burden of the economic downturn, says a report by the charity, which aims to raise £500,000 in a domestic fundraising campaign.

“About one in three children in the UK, 3.5 million, live in poverty and the financial crisis is expected to make it even worse. This is not acceptable in 21st century UK,” said Sally Copley, the charity’s UK head of poverty.

The report, Child poverty in 2012: It shouldn’t happen here, says that one in eight of the poorest children in the UK go without at least one hot meal a day, and one in 10 of the UK’s poorest parents have cut back on food for themselves to make sure their children have enough to eat.

Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s Chief Executive, said: “Poverty is tearing families apart, with parents buckling under the pressure of mounting bills and children seeing their parents argue more about money. We need to help poor families survive the recession.”

Poverty is defined by the charity as having a family income of less than 60 per cent of the median income, which amounts to about £17,000 a year for a family with two children.

The report adds that, as children head back to school for the new term, one in seven of the 1,500 poorest 8-16 year olds surveyed say that they have to go without a warm winter coat and new shoes.

Of the 5,000 parents interviewed for the report, 80 per cent admitted that they were borrowing more money for essentials such as food and clothes.

“And this is despite the fact that most children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. We’ve got to make sure the families have a decent wage,” said Ms Copley. On the other hand, she added, child care has become so expensive that many families cannot afford to work.

Save the Children wants the government to encourage more employers to adopt the living wage. It also wants the new welfare system, universal credit, strengthened by allowing parents to keep more of their earnings before benefits were withdrawn, and to provide extra support towards childcare costs.

Rising living costs are most damaging to those people living in poverty, with the poorest 10 per cent of households spending a much greater proportion of their income on items such as food and utility bills, the report said.

Prime minister David Cameron was questioned about the campaign in the Commons as Labour MP Alison McGovern cited Save the Children’s work and said families in her Wirral constituency “faced the indignity of food banks”.

Mr Cameron said: “We are making sure we target help on the poorest families in our country, which is what we have done through the tax credit system.”

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