Government ignores hungry children
This article by Coventry Socialist Party and NUT (personal capacity) member Nicky Downes, originally appeared in ‘The Socialist’ newspaper. It reveals the stark reality in Coventry and across the UK today. If this does not make you angry then you are not paying attention! But don’t just get angry, consider joining the Socialist Party – click here
By Nicky Downes
I have been teaching in the same primary school for 19 years. It is in one of the poorest wards in Britain, St Michaels in Coventry. Over time, I have seen the growing effect of child poverty on our school community.
My union, the NUT, in conjunction with the Daily Mirror and the Child Poverty Action Group, asked me to complete a survey on the issue.
The results should shame any government, but particularly one of a country that remains one of the richest in the world.
1,700 teachers were surveyed and 85.5% have seen children coming to school hungry; 77% have seen parents unable to afford the school uniform and a shocking 91.7% believe benefit cuts will have a negative impact on children at their school.
You can tell when a child is hungry – their head drops onto the table by morning break and again shortly after lunch.
Hunger directly affects concentration and attainment. I’ve looked in children’s lunch boxes on occasion and found one slice of buttered bread.
These are often children whose families are not entitled to free school meals. We regularly, as a school, refer families to the CAB and we know that a number of our families are regular users of food banks.
If a child goes without breakfast and we know about it, we will provide them with one. If they have no or little lunch, we provide them with one but who knows what they get for dinner.
Providing all Key Stage 1 children with a free school meal is a start but children do not stop being hungry at the age of seven. And what happens to them in the holidays?
We’ve just started a new school year. Most of our parents will have gone and bought new school jumpers, trousers and shoes, etc.
This year, more than any other, I have seen children arrive back in September in the same ripped and stained jumper which is now further up their arms. It’s incredibly sad to see.
None of this is because the parents lack parental skills or are poor managers of their household budget as Gove would have you think.
Their housing benefit is cut because they are hit by the bedroom tax, or their entitlement to benefits is non-existent or reduced, or they are working in incredibly low-paid jobs.
We make days at school happy. We take our students on subsidised trips and have a ‘forest school’ that enhances their outdoor learning but the expectation is for accelerated learning and rigorous target setting.
They are, in effect, expected to make more progress than kids eating regular meals with home access to the internet and support from tutors paid for by their parents.
Fundamentally, however, the government has and continues to make a choice to ignore hungry, undernourished children.
They choose to blame the poorest parents for the crisis instead of ensuring that every family has a roof over their head, food and warmth in the winter.