From education to employment

Families in need turning to schools for support with clothing and food

Research by University College London: Covid crisis reveals how schools are ‘propping up a failing welfare state’, 

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“This research demonstrates the determination of schools to deal with the effects of poverty in their classrooms. But schools cannot act alone and urgent action to tackle the scourge of child poverty is needed from the Government. 

‘We know that even before coronavirus, 4.3 million children and young people were growing up trapped in poverty and this is only going to be made worse as the pandemic continues to take its toll. Covid-19 has exposed the endemic levels of poverty and inequality in the UK. 

‘Through the NEU’s own research, we know the shocking levels of poverty that education staff are witnessing daily. Members spoke of families turning to schools or colleges for extra support during lockdown for the provision of basic learning resources such as pens, paper and books. Schools having to set up food banks and teachers reporting they personally provide food and snacks to their pupils to ensure they have eaten during the school day have become part of everyday life in many schools.  It is completely unacceptable that children are going hungry or don’t have basic supplies to access education. 

‘Adding to this, millions of families have now had a £20-a-week cut to their Universal Credit. The impact that this cut will have on rising rates of child poverty is a concern to staff in education and those who lead schools. Independent analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that it risks plunging 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children. The Chancellor needs to do the right thing and reinstate the £20 to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit at the Autumn Budget and ensure families on legacy benefits are included. 

‘It is vital that the Government takes urgent action to create the conditions in which all children can thrive and learn and ensure that no child is held back as a result of poverty.” 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said:

“The government’s record on child poverty is shameful.

“Austerity is not just a temporary phase for some families to endure, it is a day to day reality. Parents and carers are not the only ones who worry about poverty. Tragically, children are well aware of their family’s money troubles. Our members tell us that children’s worries leave them unable to learn and enjoy school, and in need of help in the form of food, clothing and basic supplies. They are often embarrassed and ashamed. It’s a situation that sticks in the throat of everyone who has young people’s best interests at heart.

“Rightly, schools are at the centre of the efforts to improve equality of opportunity. But it would be wrong to expect schools to solve the problem on their own. The issues that underpin inequality reach far beyond the school gates and exist throughout the communities that schools serve. Cuts to local authority budgets have greatly reduced the sources of support for families on low incomes. Similarly, schools are less able to access local authority support for pupils and families that need it. Poverty and inequality will remain entrenched in the UK unless the government takes urgent action.”

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