Source > iNews
June 3, 2022 11:41 BST
They say you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable. What does our society’s treatment of children living in poverty say about Britain, and the people in charge?
In an attempt to rouse our Government from the midst of illicit party controversy to help children at risk of starving, teaching unions have written a joint letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, asking them to extend free school meals “urgently” to all families on Universal Credit in light of the cost of living crisis. Their warning that students unable to afford food face a “real barrier to learning” was echoed by the former children’s commissioner for England.
I hope the Government heeds this call from the people who know the most about young people and their learning, but I wish it wasn’t the case that letters and protests and campaigns had to happen so that tiny bellies can be filled with hot meals.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, child poverty is on the rise, with almost one in three children living in poverty in the UK. That translates to an average of 10 children in every classroom in the country coming to school with an empty stomach and potentially not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
For ethnic minorities and children in single-parent families, the figures only get worse. At the start of the pandemic, Unicef started feeding hungry children in the UK for the first time in its 70-year history and last year, reliance on food banks hit an all-time high with over a third of all food parcels being distributed to children.
Just last month, a food bank in Cornwall reported that children were suffering from food poisoning because parents were turning off fridges and freezers at night to save on the cost of energy bills. With a cost of living crisis of unprecedented proportions gripping much of the country, things are continuing to look bleak, particularly for the nation’s half a million children who live in poverty.
As food prices hike and funding fails to rise in line with soaring inflation, some schools are being forced to replace hot meals with sandwiches or smaller portions for children who receive free meals. In real terms, that means the children who are already the poorest are now potentially losing their one hot meal a day due to the Government’s failure to step up and support the most vulnerable.
Part of me wants to say that there doesn’t need to be a rationale behind feeding poor children. Children starving is horrendous – end of story. But clearly if things were that simple then we wouldn’t be in a position where hundreds of thousands of children are going hungry each day.
As a teacher, I know that hungry children are children who cannot concentrate, who underachieve, and are isolated from their peers. Hungry children are children who do not reach their potential in school and in later life.
For every article or social media post that references feeding disadvantaged children, there’s always someone who replies by saying that pasta only costs 20p a bag or that it is a parent’s duty to feed their child, not the state’s.
We can always count on an out-of-touch Tory MP to graciously inform the nation that, in fact, there is no massive need for food banks (just a lack of cookery skills) or that people struggling to make ends meet should just “move to a better paid job”. But if we, as a society, accept the narrative that the state bears no responsibility for stepping in to support the most vulnerable children, then what does that say about us?
As we welcome June, the summer holidays are finally on the horizon. For some children this signifies endless freedom and fun – foreign holidays and late bedtimes – but for those impacted by poverty, the summer holidays mean six weeks of food insecurity, financial strain and often a lack of enriching cultural activity.
For already pressured parents it means trying to find the money to feed their children without being able to rely on free school meals. For the half a million children who live in poverty, it means a month and a half of scarce opportunities to eat.
The impact of the summer holidays on disadvantaged children is well-understood by those of us who work in education. A 2018 report suggested it is one of the biggest contributors to the widening attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils. It is always clear to teachers in September which students spent the holidays being challenged and nourished, and which did not.
Marcus Rashford, Jack Monroe and now the teaching unions have sounded the alarm. But what will it take for real change to happen? We find ourselves in a situation where a Chancellor on The Sunday Times Rich List enacts decisions that keep millions in poverty and plunge countless others closer to the brink.
As Union Jacks line our streets and photographs of the Queen pop up in shop windows, this is a time we are told we should be proud to be British.
But whilst £28 million of taxpayers money goes on lavish celebrations of inherited wealth and status in our nation’s capital – the city with some of the highest poverty rates in the country – I can’t help but feel more ashamed than ever to be British.
Bank of England Boris Johnson Charity Sector Children Comment Piece Conservative Government Cost of Living Crime Economics Energy Food Food Banks food prices Fuel Health Housing Hunger Industrial Action inequality Inflation Labour Party Living Wage London Martin Lewis Mental Health Michael Gove Minimum Wage Opinion Piece Pensions Poverty protest protests Rent Rishi Sunak RMT sunak Supermarkets Trade Unionism TUC Universal Credit Video Wages Wales Work Young People