The NSPCC has revealed that it refers an average of five reports of child neglect every week to police and social services in Cambridgeshire.

In 2016/17, the NSPCC Helpline dealt with 286 reports in this way following calls or e-mails from concerned adults – the highest number the charity has ever had to handle in Cambridgeshire – up 20 per cent on the previous year.

There were a further 37 contacts requesting advice about a child possibly facing neglect in the county during 2016/17.

UK-wide, the children's charity made 16,882 referrals to children's services or the police in the last year, equivalent to 46 a day.

Child neglect was mentioned in more than a quarter of all calls to the NSPCC Helpline in the same period. According to the charity, the increase shows that more people are willing to speak up about the issue.

The figures on neglect cases were revealed in the NSPCC's state of the nation report, How Safe are our Children?

The NSPCC believes the full scale of the problem could be much greater and is urging the Government to commission a nationwide study that measures the extent of child neglect and abuse in the UK.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC said: “Neglect can have severe and long-lasting consequences for children, and can also be an indicator of other forms of abuse. This is why it is so important for anyone suspecting a child of being neglected to contact the NSPCC Helpline, so we can alert the authorities to quickly step in and help those in need.

“At the same time, it is vital we understand the true nature and scale of child neglect in the UK so we can collectively tackle the fundamental causes. Therefore, a Government-commissioned, nationwide prevalence study on child abuse and neglect needs to be conducted, and sooner rather than later.”

The Department for Education, which has been running a campaign to encourage more people to report instances of child abuse and neglect, said the government was investing £8m in the Childline service and giving £20m to the National Crime Agency to tackle online child sexual exploitation.

A spokesman said: “We are helping to make sure people feel confident about reporting abuse and neglect through our national awareness campaign and are improving the way the police, social services and other agencies work together to keep children safe.”