Tuesday 18 December 2012

Evening Standard report on hungry children reinforces need for free school meals for all

Following on from my posting earlier this month accusing the Coalition of knowingly increasing child poverty LINK and reporting being accosted by a hungry child in a local school. the Evening Standard has published this story: LINK:
Thousands of London children are going to school hungry because their parents are too poor to afford breakfast.

A harrowing investigation reveals today that scores of children have even passed out in class due to lack of food.

Three quarters of teachers interviewed by the London Assembly in a snapshot survey said they had personally taken action to help hungry children. Of those who said they had “taken action” to feed pupils, 60 per cent said they provided food at their own expense.

Almost 20 per cent of those interviewed who regularly gave food to hungry children did so up to four times a month.

Fiona Twycross, who is leading the study, said:
It’s heart-breaking to think that children are going to school hungry. Some kids have told us there’s no food in the cupboard at home at all. The problem might be even more widespread than we think. There are probably thousands going hungry.
You can’t see a hungry child, you just see a child who is listless or a bit ratty and lacking concentration, so unless a teacher spots it and asks the right questions we just don’t know.

Thank goodness for caring teachers who pay for food for hungry pupils out of their own pockets – although it is scandalous that they have to in this day and age.  What worries me even more is what is happening during the school holidays when this extra help isn’t available.
The Assembly member added:
We’ve heard really devastating stories about pupils passing out. It’s a dramatic illustration of the problem and hopefully not very widespread but it does happen. Even if it’s just one child going hungry and we don’t do anything about it that’s a scandal.
More than 95 per cent of teachers interviewed said there were always a few pupils in their class were starting the day on an empty stomach.

Almost 20 per cent said as many as 15 pupils went without breakfast.

Half of the respondents from primary and secondary schools across the capital said the children went without because their parents could not afford it.

And almost all of the teachers interviewed - 97 per cent - said hunger impacted negatively on their pupils’ concentration in lessons.

The Assembly’s health committee, which publishes its full report in March, spoke to 164 head teachers and other staff across 21 different boroughs - including Lewisham, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets - to establish the scale and impact of hunger.

There are just over 2,000 primary and secondary schools in London educating around 1.25 million pupils so the scale of the problem is likely to be more widespread.

The study found there was a growing demand for food banks, breakfast clubs and free school meals as the economic downturn takes effect.

Investigators have uncovered harrowing tales. One teacher came across a child standing outside a cookery class sniffing the air as cakes were baked inside.

She described the scene as “like something out of a Dickens story” as the child had not eaten breakfast or lunch because he couldn’t afford the food.
It would be good if the Evening Standard took up the Green Party policy of free school meals for all children. It would end the bureaucracy  associated with applying for free school meals and ensure that, at least during term time, all children got a decent hot meal, impacting on health, behaviour and educational achievement. Many parents find applying for free school meals difficult and there are also families who do not qualify as their immigration status means they have 'no recourse to public funds'.

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