One in five teachers has given food to hungry pupils, a survey suggests

Catherine Gaunt
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Large numbers of pupils in London are starting the day without breakfast, a survey claims.

More than three-quarters of heads, teachers and other school staff have taken action to help pupils who are going hungry, with 60 per cent of those that have done so giving food to pupils at their own expense, the research found.

The survey of 164 school staff at primary and secondary schools in the capital  was carried out by the London Assembly’s Health and Environment Committee as part of an investigation into food poverty.

More than half of those surveyed said that the reason pupils did not eat breakfast was because families cannot afford to provide it.

Just under one in five of those who took part in the survey said that between 11 an 15 pupils in each class went without breakfast. A similar proportion of respondents said that they gave food to pupils regularly, up to four times a month.

The committee’s investigation is looking at the scale and health implications of food poverty, existing emergency support for people already in need, as well as broader measures to address the risk factors for food poverty.  A report will be published early next year.  

Assembly member Fiona Twycross, who is leading the investigation, said, ‘As the weather gets colder and Londoners prepare for their festive feasts, I think most people will share my concern about the shocking numbers of children going hungry across the capital.  

‘Thank goodness for caring teachers who pay for food for hungry pupils out of their own pockets – although it is scandalous that they have to in this day and age.  What worries me even more is what is happening during the school holidays when this extra help isn’t available.

‘During our investigation, we’ve heard about a growing demand for food banks, breakfast clubs and free school meals, especially as the economic downturn takes effect. With figures showing more than a third of London’s children live in poverty, the recommendations in our forthcoming report - aimed at lifting London families out of food poverty - are particularly important.’

‘A pupil hunger crisis’

Magic Breakfast has seen a huge rise in the number of schools asking for support to help run breakfast clubs.

The charity delivers free breakfasts to primary schools, where 50 per cent of the pupils are eligible for free school meals, and also works with some children’s centres.

Founder Carmel McConnell, said, ‘The report mirrors all our own research. We’ve seen a massive increase in demand for Magic Breakfast. We normally have a waiting list of 20 or 30 schools but now it’s 140.’

She added that the rise of 30 per cent in the cost of food and fuel means that more families are asking schools for help with breakfast.

‘The recession is hitting working families very hard. We’re hearing of new parents that you wouldn’t expect to be in financial difficulties that are not eligible for free school meals because they’re above the threshold.’

Apart from poverty, she said that some families also do not have the skills to feed children nutritionally. Referring to recent reports that families are eating less of their five a day, she added, ‘Nutrition is the bit that’s being squeezed. Young children really need good nutrition and they will feel the brunt of that.’

Magic Breakfast will shortly be named as Number 10’s Social Action Partner.

The charity’s new campaign aims to reach 1,000 schools in the poorest areas as quickly as possible to provide healthy breakfast food, work with parents to support them around nutrition and cooking, and to offer schools the skills and support to help make breakfast clubs self-funding. This involves working with schools on fundraising, making links with corporate partners and looking at ways they might be able to raise money, for example, hiring out the school car park.

Ms McConnell said, ‘We’re shocked by the very rapid increase in pupil hunger. The problem is getting so big we’re saying it’s a pupil hunger crisis, which in a rich country like ours is scandalous. We’re saying let’s solve this for good.’

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