Lifestyle

Teachers are buying winter coats for their pupils living in ‘Dickensian poverty’

Teachers are seeing ­distressing poverty among their pupils and more than half fear some will go hungry over Christmas.

A poll of 1,026 teachers in England highlighted how austerity is blighting the lives of poorer families…with their ­children bearing the brunt.

One said: “Kids come in without winter coats even in the coldest weather.”

Another added: “Struggling families get food packages, clothing and Christmas presents. We are starting a breakfast for every child.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, which carried out the survey, said: “This is a Dickensian picture of the poverty that far too many children and their families are having to endure.”

Charles Dickens’ famous 1837 novel Oliver Twist exposed the grinding poverty faced by many children in Victorian England.

And now the spectre of want is returning to modern Britain.

Dr Bousted added: “The Government is out of touch with the 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 cost of cuts to schools, [to] children’s services and the social security system.”

She urged “an urgent change to national policies”s and went on to blast the Tories for a “failure to address the in-work poverty faced by one in five.”

More than six out 10 teachers said more families could not afford adequate winter clothes or shoes than three years ago.

Nearly half said “holiday hunger” and housing issues, such as children living in ­overcrowded or temporary accommodation, were also worse than three years ago.

And a shocking 40% said schools provide extra items for children and their hard-up families.

One teacher said: “Good shoes are too expensive so students are coming in cheap shoes that last a few weeks at most.

“I often have students asking me if I can glue their shoes ­back together because the sole has fallen off.”

While one revealed that school attendance dropped to 86% after heavy rain “because shoes [were] damaged and many had no extra pair.”

The survey said poverty was also contributing to more absences from school, behavioural issues, lack of concentration and pupils turning up late.

North Denes Primary in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, have even started its own foodbank after noticing pupils were turning up hungry.

Last night Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: ”These figures paint a shocking picture of the impact of the Tories’ austerity on a generation of children.

“Schools are being left to fend for themselves and deal with the consequences.”

However the Government insisted: “Since 2010 there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty, employment is at a record and we’re committed to ensuring every child gets the very best chances.

“We spend £90 billion a year on welfare to support those who need it most. On top of this, we’ve introduced funding to support disadvantaged ­families in the holidays.”

Here teachers tell of some of the shocking examples of poverty among pupils they have seen:

  • One wore his trousers backwards as he didn’t want people to see holes in the knees.
  • We are buying them coats on a scale never seen before.
  • I found out last week a third of my class sleep in their uniforms as they don’t have pyjamas.
  • Children come in without winter coats even in the coldest weather, or with shoes held together by tape.
  • Holes in shoes, no outside coat, trousers far too short, holes in clothes, still wearing sandals or unsuitable footwear in November on very cold days.
  • We give free school dinners to children who don’t qualify for FSM [free school meals] because their parents work but have contacted us to say they have no money that day.



Children from poor backgrounds are suffering in the classroom (file photo)
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

COMMENT: Time to end this monstrous injustice

By Louisa McGeehan, Director of Policy, Child Poverty Action Group

“There is no denying the prevalence of child poverty in our schools and some teachers’ experiences are absolutely heart breaking.

"We know that in a class of 30 children, on average 9 are growing up in poverty. This means missing out on opportunities to fulfil their potential and enjoy childhood, it also means sometimes going hungry or missing out on trips and other activities.

"Schools can’t address this alone – as a compassionate nation we need to re-invest in children and tackle child poverty urgently by restoring the value of child benefit, ending the freeze on social security benefits and abolishing the 2 child policy that discriminates unfairly against some children.

"The growth in in-work poverty is a particularly worrying trend.

"Because of zero-hour or short-hour contracts and increasingly insecure minimum wage work, many children are growing up in poverty when at least one of their parents work.

"Our recent research on the cost of a child in 2018 found that 2 parents with 2 children working full-time on the national minimum wage still can’t earn enough to meet their family’s needs even at a minimum no-frills standard.

"A lone parent in the same position would need to work in a job paying at least an average wage to meet the family’s needs.

"This growth in in-work poverty means that if families earn just above the threshold, their children miss out on free school meals.

“It’s not just teachers who see first hand the impact of increasing child poverty. Our work with paediatricians found that children are sick as a direct result of being poor and the impact of this is lifelong.

"Sometimes families can’t visit sick children in hospital because they can’t afford travel costs or to miss a day of work and some children couldn’t be sent home from hospital when medically fit because the family’s housing conditions are so bad.

"For instance, a child needing electrical medical equipment but there is only one socket available for the fridge, cooking and everything else. “

“Life is getting tougher for low-income families and poverty has an effect on all parts of a child’s life. It doesn’t have to be this way – poverty isn’t inevitable.

"We have tackled it before and can do this again if there is the political will to do it. Today’s children deserve no less.”

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