‘Dickensian’ poverty increasingly prevalent in schools

17 Dec 18

Increasing levels of child poverty are affecting children and young people’s education, with schools dealing with ‘Dickensian’ levels of squalor, a major teaching union has warned.

A survey of members by the National Education Union found more than half (53%) believe children in their school will go hungry over Christmas, putting the blame on welfare cuts as well as those to schools and children’s services.

The poll of 1,026 NEU teachers in England revealed that 46% believe holiday hunger – a lack of access to food in the absence of free school meals – has got worse in the last three years.

The NEU’s report, published today, highlighted the “stark” impact of poverty on children’s education. Poverty-related problems include: absence from school (83%); behavioural issues (85%); concentration (81%); health (59%); and lateness (79%).

The survey heard from teachers who were buying or washing clothes for students who could not afford them. Some teachers said their students had been sleeping in their school uniforms because they don’t have pyjamas, and other children had food delivered to their home by the school.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is a Dickensian picture of the poverty that far too many children and their families are having to endure.

“The government has failed to recognise the human cost of its cuts to schools and other children’s services and to the social security system, and its failure to address the in-work poverty faced by one in five workers.

“The government must stop hiding from the facts. Children can’t escape the poverty trap without an urgent change to national policies.”

The poll also found 46% of teachers believe that poor quality and overcrowded housing conditions are affecting the education of children and young people more than they were.

Many schools are now offering free breakfast clubs for children and also running foodbanks, giving hampers to families and providing meals during the holidays, the survey found.

But union members said that school funding cuts were restricting the help that can be given.

A government spokesperson said: “Teachers shouldn’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey, and we’re already taking action to make sure that they don’t have to.”

Read PF’s feature on school funding here.

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