Alarming new evidence of hunger in schools raises urgent call for free school meals
Nearly half of UK teachers are seeing hungry children coming into school, a new report from The Children’s Society, released today (14 December) reveals.
‘Food for Thought: A survey on teacher’s views on school meals’ reveals alarming evidence of child poverty and hunger in UK schools. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of teachers reported seeing children coming to school with no lunch and no means to pay for one.
And two thirds (66%) of the teachers we spoke to stated that staff provide pupils with food or money if they come into school hungry.
The Children’s Society’s report comes just a few days after the government announced its plans for implementing Universal Credit. The introduction of a new welfare system provides decision-makers with a unique opportunity to make sure all children in poverty get a free school meal.
Every day, more than half of the 2.2 million school children living in poverty in England miss out on a free school meal. 700,000 of these children are not even entitled to one - often because their parents work, regardless of how little they earn. A further 500,000 are not taking up their free school meals because they face barriers, such as stigma, teasing and bullying.
‘Food for Thought’ also reveals that 98% of teachers believe that all children living in poverty, including those in working families, should receive a free school meal.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “This report sets out shocking evidence of just how much hardship teachers up and down the country are witnessing in classrooms day in, day out. Something is going badly wrong when teachers themselves are having to feed children.
"Every child in poverty should be given a free school meal. Free school meals are key to moving children out of poverty and vital to helping them flourish."
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Our teachers see hunger in their classrooms every day. Free school meals often are the only chance children in poverty get to have a balanced, nutritional meal. They should be available to all children in need.”
Hank Roberts, President of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “It is deeply worrying that our teachers are seeing pupils arriving at school unable to pay for their lunch and are too often going without. The Children’s Society’s report clearly shows the importance of free school meals in tackling child poverty, and we support the recommendation that all children living in poverty should be entitled to free school meals.”
The Children’s Society’s report also highlights teachers’ views of the importance of a healthy lunch on students’ ability to learn.
It also emphasises the importance of a cashless system for helping to end the stigma sometimes associated with free school meals.