Teachers' poll highlights rise in child poverty

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Children are arriving at school without winter coats and wearing sandals in cold weather, according to teachers polled by the National Education Union.

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The snapshot poll of more than 1,000 teachers in England paints a harrowing picture of the increase in poverty seen in schools and the daily impact it is having on children and young people. 

According to the findings:

  •  46 per cent of teachers confirm that holiday hunger has got worse compared to three years ago.
  • 63 per cent of respondents say that more families are unable to afford adequate winter clothes or shoes compared to three years ago.
  • 46 per cent of teachers believe that there are more housing issues (poor quality, insecure, overcrowded or temporary accommodation) compared to three years ago.
  • 53 per cent of respondents believe that children and young people will go hungry over Christmas.
  • 40 per cent of respondents say schools are having to provide extra items for children and young people and their families because of increased poverty. 

Around three quarters of the 1,026 teachers, members of the NEU, who took part in the poll were secondary school teachers and a quarter were primary. The poll was carried out between 23-26 November.

 Teachers gave distressing examples from their school about the effect living in poverty was having on the children and young people they teach.

Comments included that children were coming in without coats even in the coldest weather, and wearing sandals on cold days and shoes with holes in them.

One teacher said, ‘We are buying them coats on a scale never seen before,’ while another said, ‘I found out last week that a third of my class sleep in their uniforms as they don’t have pyjamas.’

‘Holes in shoes, no outside coat, trousers far too short, holes in clothes, still wearing sandals/unsuitable footwear in November (on very cold days),’ another commented.

Teachers also reported giving free school dinners to children who don’t qualify for free school meals because even though their parents work they told the school they had no money that day.

Children are wearing ‘shoes held together by tape’, and one child ‘wore his trousers backwards as he didn’t want anyone to know he had holes in the knees’.

The poll also revealed that the impact of living in poverty on children and young people’s education is stark.

Teachers observed a wide range of consequences including absence from school (83 per cent), behavioural issues (85 per cent), concentration (81 per cent), health (59 per cent) and lateness to school (79 per cent).

Commenting on the poll, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘This is a Dickensian picture of the poverty that far too many children and their families are having to endure. The Government is out of touch with the distressing new reality of children’s daily lives: with what it means to live without enough money for basics, such as food, shoes and adequate clothing.

‘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 1 in 5 workers.

‘The UN Envoy Philip Alston concluded in his recent report that the Government is in a state of denial about the levels of poverty in the UK.  The Government must stop hiding from the facts. Children can’t escape the poverty trap without an urgent change to national policies.’

Commenting on the NEU survey findings, Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said, ‘These figures paint a shocking picture of the impact of the Tories’ austerity programme on a generation of children, who are impoverished through no fault of their own.

‘Growing up in such hardship has a major influence on education, health and welfare, and quite simply it is harder to learn if you are hungry or homeless.

‘Schools are being left to fend for themselves and deal with the consequences, despite years of swingeing cuts to their own budgets under the Tories.

Labour has pledged to end cuts to schools and to provide a free healthy meal for all primary school children.

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. Since 2010 there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty, employment is at a record high and we’re committed to ensuring that every child gets the very best chances in life.
 
'We continue to spend £90 billion a year on welfare to support those who need it most, have introduced the National Living Wage and helped workers keep more of the money they earn by cutting taxes for 31 million people by an average of £1,000.
 
'On top of this, we’ve introduced funding to support thousands of disadvantaged families in the school holidays to ensure they get the extra help they need.'

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