Over a million children in poverty are not getting free school meals with a survey revealing that three quarters of teachers have experienced kids coming into school without a meal or any money to pay for one.
Today’s report by the Children’s Society is a sad indictment on austerity Britain and the extent to which many thousands of families and young children have been driven below the breadline.
A Guardian survey in June, part of their Breadline Britain series, arrived at similar findings with many teachers reporting an increase in hunger in schools over the past two years.
Some 83 per cent of teachers said they see evidence of hunger in the mornings at their school and 55 per cent believe they have seen an increase in hunger over the past two years. 62% stated that general poverty was the reason for this increase.
This headteacher had this to say in the Guardian:
“It is easy to dismiss hunger as a parenting issue but it is too simplistic to do so. Many families are at crisis point and the problem is increasing as austerity measures bite. I am the headteacher of a school in a very socially deprived area and I very rarely encounter parents who make a conscious decision to send their children to school hungry.
Instead, other factors – debt, family break up, anti-social behaviour, mental health issues, I could go on – result in a chaotic start to the day and limited funds mean that breakfast can be a low priority. For many of our children breakfast can be a bag of crisps eaten on the way to school.
Free breakfast clubs in schools would help but only if based on other deprivation factors (not just free school meals). Increasing numbers of families are falling into debt and poverty, but are not entitled to free school meals. Food poverty is an increasing problem for working families.
Our school hosts our community foodbank and this is an invaluable service for families when food poverty becomes a food crisis. More facilities of this kind will be needed as poverty spirals (as it inevitably will).”
The Children’s Society report, called Food for Thought, found that:
• Nearly three quarters (72%) of teachers surveyed have experienced pupils coming into school with no lunch and no means to pay for one;
• Nearly half (44%) of those surveyed found that children are often or very often hungry during the school day;
• Two thirds (66%) of the teachers surveyed stated that staff provide pupils with food or money if they come into school hungry.
There’s a BBC London TV report on the issue you can view here.
On a related issue Labour leader Ed Miliband challenged the Prime Minister over a six-fold increase in food banks in the Commons this afternoon only for David Cameron to pay tribute to the volunteers and praise the concept of the Big Society. A glib response breathtaking in its’ arrogance.
At the same time I came across a report in the Telegraph today about a Conservative MP, Alec Shelbrooke, who is introducing a Private Members Bill to bring in a ‘welfare card’ for benefits to be paid into instead of a bank account, which the MP hopes will prevent claimants from spending cash on non-essentials like cigarettes and alcohol.
They may be ‘non-essential’ but for poor families, addiction to these substances are one of the few relief from the depression of grinding poverty and lack of hope and opportunity.
Apart from further stigmatising the poor, banning job-seekers from buying cigs and booze with a welfare card will not prevent them consuming them and can only lead to an upsurge in petty crime to pay for their habits.
You don’t have to be a Labour supporter to be moved by the ever-worsening plight of the poorest in society.
Two weeks ago the chancellor George Osborne declared a three-year squeeze on welfare benefits in his autumn statement and less than a fortnight later local government minister Eric Pickles announces yet more cuts for town halls that are certain to dump many more public sector workers on the dole and into poverty.
When my Liberal Left colleague Linda Jack spoke out on BBC 4’s PM programme on Monday against the way the austerity cuts were attempting to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor” she was strongly attacked on a Lib Dem social media site today.
“Well done, Linda Jack”, said one activist fumed. “A Labour activist couldn’t have said it better. Who needs enemies when you have Linda Jack to put the boot in.”
She talked about how ATOS benefit tests on the disabled were driving some to suicide over fears of losing their only means of survival. If this makes Linda Jack an enemy of anything it should be an enemy of poverty and unfairness. And an enemy of everyone who turns a blind eye to the despair of the victims of welfare cuts.
To dismiss the impact of George Osborne’s economic strategy on the poorest is to loose something of ourselves. I blogged last month about the 1,000 suicides directly attributed to the current recession in a British Medical Journal study, and that is probably a conservative estimate.
We cannot turn away from reality. These suicides are real tragedies that every defender of the government’s Plan A must face up to, just as some of us Liberal Democrats told Labour MPs who voted for the war in Iraq that they should ponder on the human casualties.
Children going to school hungry is yet another consequence of the coalition’s misguided austerity drive that even the IMF recognise is not helping Britain out of its’ economic slump.
Starving kids going to school, starving adults trundling miles to the nearest food-bank simply to survive, this is the reality of an increasingly Dickensian Britain.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway