More than seven in 10 teachers have reported seeing children in their schools who have no lunch and no means to pay for one.
The findings, in a report from the Children’s Society, have led to renewed calls for action to ensure that all 2.2 million children who live in poverty receive free school meals (FSM).
Currently, 1.2 million children in poverty do not receive FSM. Of this number, 700,000 are not even entitled to them, while 500,000 do not take up their FSM for fear of stigma and bullying.
The study, Food for Thought: A survey on teacher’s views on school meals, found that 72 per cent of teachers see children arriving at school without lunch and having no money to pay for one.
One teacher told researchers: “We all know how hungry some children (are when they) come to school and in what poverty they live. They come to school and have not had breakfast. They take toast that they have not paid for because they are so hungry.”
Furthermore, almost half of the teachers, 44 per cent, said they often see children who are hungry or very hungry in school and 66 per cent said that staff in their school have given money or food to pupils if they come into school hungry.
Another teacher said: “Myself and many teachers in other schools feed children with bread or crackers in the morning from their own budget.”
The Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign is calling for the government to ensure that all 2.2 million school children living in poverty get FSM. It highlights how eligibility for FSM has serious ramifications for families in low-paid work and those looking to move back into work.
Current criteria mean that single parents working 16 or more hours per week lose their entitlement to FSM, no matter how little they earn. The cut-off for couples is 24 hours a week.
The introduction of Universal Credit, which brings together different forms of income-related support for people in or out of work, means that many of the current benefits used to assess FSM entitlement will be scrapped – including Income Support, Job Seekers’ Allowance, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
The Universal Credit system is to be phased in from this year and the Department for Education is considering proposals for new FSM eligibility criteria under the new system. The Children’s Society says that this is “a unique opportunity to make sure all children in poverty get a free school meal”.
Chief executive Matthew Reed 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.”
The report recommends that entitlement for FSM should be extended to children from all families who receive the new Universal Credit. It also states that all school providers should introduce cashless catering systems in order to “de-stigmatise” the receipt of FSM.
The Children’s Society worked with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and National Union of Teachers to survey teachers for the report.
For details on the Fair and Square campaign activities, visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare