Hungry children are using secret handshakes with youth workers to let them know there is no food at home.
The method allows kids to discreetly ask for any spare food at the end of youth club sessions so they can help feed their siblings, said Councillor Mariam Khan at a cost of living conference in Birmingham today.
The city council ‘s cabinet member for health and social care also warned that thousands of families are “struggling to live” and being forced to make “unsafe choices”, reports Birmingham Live.
She said: “More and more children are coming every day to the youth clubs hungry, asking if there is bread for toast as they have not eaten, or if they can do an impromptu cooking workshop so they can eat something before going home.
“Our children should not have to worry about food.”
For the first time, many families will be experiencing “what it feels like to make the impossible choice between heating your home and putting food on the table”, she added.
Councillor Khan said rising energy costs could lead to people “taking risks”, such as using heaters without checks or putting a newborn baby in bed with them to keep them warm.
And Richard Brooks, the council’s director of strategy, equality and partnerships, told how children are being caught up in the crisis more than anyone else.
He pointed out how pensioner poverty has decreased nationally, to one in nine, while child poverty has rocketed to one in four – with the rate almost double that in Birmingham.
Around 300,000 people in the city were already in poverty and would struggle to pay their bills this winter – but there is “no quick fix”, he added.
Mr Brooks said: “Prices are rising at a pace not seen for four decades – and we are particularly exposed here in Birmingham.”
Areas with high unemployment were affected the most, while the two child limit on benefits was also having a large impact, he explained.
The Trussell Trust handed out 207,665 food parcels across the West Midlands last year.
Each contained enough food for three meals a day for three days – meaning nearly 1.9 million meals were provided.
In contrast, 104,374 emergency aid packages were given away in 2014/15 – equivalent to almost 940,000 meals.
Trussell Trust area manager Andy Scott previously told the Mirror : “Across the network we have seen a significant increase in demand – even in comparison with pandemic levels.”
Backing calls for welfare payments to rise with inflation, he added: “The main reason we are seeing people coming is that benefits are insufficient for them to live on.”