A Hull mum who often goes without food to ensure her twins are properly fed has spoken out after the government ruled out extending free school meals beyond term time.

Leanne Whitaker, is a single mum to premature twins Kacy and Keira who have needed round the clock support for much of their lives, which has meant the mum of two has been unable to work since they born in 2017.

The 32-year-old has relied on Universal Credit (UC) since the breakdown of her marriage saw her become a single mum and she says people cannot possibly understand what it's like to live on the breadline unless they've experienced it.

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She spoke out after businesses across Hull and the East Riding offered to feed children for free next week which prompted a flurry of "judgemental" comments on social media, with people saying all parents should be able to feed their own children.

Ms Whitaker says parents like herself have found themselves in hardship through no fault of their own, which means they rely on government help.

Single mum Leanne often goes without food to feed her twins Kacy and Keira 

"I'm on universal credit and struggle to cover my bills and afford food," She said.

"I often go days without eating so my kids can. I'd love to be able to work but I can't afford childcare. Until they start full time education there is nothing I can do but struggle along.

"For a lot of us, it's not the parents fault. I'm on benefits, but being on benefits does not make you a druggie or alcoholic.

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"We sit in the cold and only heat one room in winter because I can't afford it. I miss meals so my kids can eat.

"I don't smoke, don't go out to pub or for meals. I don't even go on day trips. Not all parents can manage despite having benefits.

"The cost of living is too great compared to the amount received on UC.

"Everyone is different you can't label us all the same. "Clearly they [people who judge] either don't have kids or are well off enough to never have to worry about how to feed their kids."

Leanne Whitaker with baby Kacy
Leanne Whitaker with baby Kacy

Ms Whitaker currently has no idea when she will be able to work because the trio have been shielding since March, due to Keira being classed as very high risk.

The twins were were born 14 weeks early at 26 weeks, weighing 1lb 9oz and 1lb 6oz respectively. Kacy had kidney failure and and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), which meant part of his intestine had to be cut away and he was given a colostomy bag. Keira had chronic lung disease as a baby and still has very fragile chest.

If Keira gets a cold she ends up in hospital and has had numerous chest infections. Ms Whitaker fears she would not survive if she caught coronavirus.

Ms Whitaker added: "My daughter is high risk, I'm home alone with them all day every day.

"I don't understand how some people even manage on benefits. I only buy cheap store brand stuff, I don't waste money, it totally baffles me.

"My household bills are barely manageable. I struggle affording my shopping. Especially fresh stuff. I buy the cheapest like frozen stuff so it doesn't go off before I can get it used."

Kacy, left, and Keira when they were born
Kacy, left, and Keira when they were born

Explaining her finances, she said: "I get my next universal credit on November 6. Minus bills I will have £40 to use for shopping etc to last us until then.

"Some months there is more left, sometimes less, depends how many hospital appointments etc I need to attend."

In Hull there are currently 7,063 children entitled to free school meals, along 6,740 eligible in the East Riding. Click here to see a full list of venues which are offering free food in our region this half term.

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The free school meals campaign is led by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who had successfully lobbied the Government during lockdown to provide school meals to the most needy kids over summer.

Rashford, who has partnered with food bank FareShare, was awarded an MBE for his work but said he was in "despair" at the vote by Tories to reject a similar move over half-term and the winter holidays.

Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) said in statements on Twitter that the government had already pledged £63m to support struggling families, including with free school meals.