Teachers in England are witnessing increasing numbers of pupils coming into school "hungry", "dirty" and "struggling to concentrate" since the economic crisis began, according to a Prince’s Trust and Times Educational Supplement survey. Interviews with over 500 secondary school teachers painted a bleak picture.
Almost half regularly witnessed pupils coming to school showing signs of malnutrition or hunger, and a quarter of these saw this more frequently since the economic downturn. Some teachers bought food for pupils with their own pay.
Some teachers had seen a "marked" increase in depression and emotional problems as joblessness affected family life. And seven out of 10 of those surveyed were "increasingly worried" that their pupils would end up on benefits, while more than one in three felt that their own efforts were "in vain" due to rising unemployment.
In some instances, of course, pupils go to school without enough food or clean clothes because of parenting problems other than extreme poverty. However the likelihood of this increases as children’s services, and adult social care which is supposed to support parents with mental health and other problems to carry out essential daily tasks, are slashed amidst heavy public sector cuts.
But in many cases now, sheer lack of money means that, even when parents do their best and make sacrifices themselves to feed and clothe their children, this is not enough.
Such findings highlight the value of support for poorer pupils and families, including adequate school meals. But they also raise serious questions about the ethical values of a society in which some prosper – including many of the architects of the current economic crisis – while others go short of the necessities of life.
(c) Savi Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator on politics, society, religion and LGBT issues. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector