Teachers report sharp increase in child poverty

Neil Puffett
Saturday, November 23, 2019

Nearly two thirds of teachers and school staff say there has been an increase in child poverty in their school or college in the past five years, a survey has found.

Nearly two-thirds of teachers said they had seen an increase in hungry pupils. Picture: Shutterstock
Nearly two-thirds of teachers said they had seen an increase in hungry pupils. Picture: Shutterstock

A poll of National Education Union (NEU) members, made up of teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders from schools across the UK, found that 62 per cent witnessed an increase in child poverty in their workplace since 2015.

More than a third (36 per cent) of the 739 respondents said they had bought food for pupils who cannot afford it, with 57 per cent saying they had paid for school equipment such as stationery, and 21 per cent had even bought items of school uniform.

Asked to describe the visible effects of child poverty on the pupils and students they teach, 62 per cent said they have seen an increase in hungry pupils since 2015.

Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) said they have seen an increase since 2015 in the numbers of children without the appropriate uniform, or a uniform in need of replacing.

One respondent said they had seen “children begging other students for food".

Another said: “More families are accessing the food bank and asking for support through breakfast and teatime clubs".

In terms of what should be done to address the situation, nearly half (47 per cent) called for improvements to family support services such as Sure Start children's centres.

Meanwhile, 20 per cent said there should be reforms to universal credit and better access to child benefit, and 15 per cent called for improvements to local job opportunities.

The survey results mirror the trend in official child poverty statistics - which have shown significant increases in recent years. Last year, the number of children living in relative poverty increased for the third year running, taking it to its highest level in a decade.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Teachers on the front line know only too well the effects of child poverty, as the harrowing results of this survey demonstrate.

“It is a sadly familiar tale, but we must not grow immune to hearing it. For every child teachers and school staff know of with broken shoes or who has not eaten, we can be sure there are many more in their school. This is the reality of austerity, and it is lived by too many children and their families each day.

“This election must be about more than Brexit. Enabling the next generation is surely a priority to every voter, and in that we must tackle the scourge of child poverty as a matter of urgency.”

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