Statistics revealed today by the Guardian will put further pressure on the government to stop children going hungry.
Almost half the teachers surveyed by the Guardian said they have brought food into schools for children you have not had breakfast. Eighty three per cent of teachers said they see pupils who are hungry in the morning and 55% said up to a quarter haven’t eaten enough.
This is bad news for the government, who scrapped Labour’s plans to give free school meals to 500,000 children from low income families.
As Cllr Richard Watts, cabinet member for children and young people in Islington, explained on these pages two years ago:
This scheme, by itself, would have lifted 50,000 children out of poverty. Some of the poorest families – many under the official poverty line – will now have to pay up to £600 more to give their children a decent lunch. This is the equivalent of an extra penny in income tax per child for them.
Islington Labour’s campaign to introduce free school meals was a key part of our winning local election campaign and we will stick to our promise to introduce them, despite the Government taking away £1.6 million that the Labour Government had allocated to the borough to help with the costs.
Laura Rodrigues, a policy officer at the Children’s Society, also wrote on Left Foot Forward:
Currently 1.2 million children, living in poverty, are missing out on the benefits of receiving free school meals.
The Guardian report said:
In the survey of 591 teachers across Britain who belong to the online Guardian Teacher Network, 49% said they have taken food or fruit into school to give to children who have not had breakfast. Almost one in five (17%) have given such pupils money out of their own pockets to buy lunch.
Almost four in five (78%) said they wanted children from low-income families to get a free breakfast on arrival at school, just as some already receive a free lunch.
The Royal College of GPs, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are urging ministers to examine the viability of ensuring that the 1.3 million children in England who qualify for free school meals also get a free breakfast.
• Free school meals for all? 27 Oct 2009
Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, told the Guardian free breakfasts would help tackle health problems, the social divide in classrooms, and low self esteem in children.
“It is sad to hear of so many children being hungry and that lack of family resources appears to be a major contributor to this. As a GP I see poverty presenting in my consulting room on a daily basis and it is important that all governments address child poverty as a matter of urgency.
“Providing free school breakfast to those eligible for free school meals would be a start. Though clearly it would not address the underlying issue of poverty, [it] would at least mean that children from poor families would not jeopardise their chances of learning.”
Hill Mead Primary School in Brixton already runs a breakfast club for pupils; in a Guardian video, pupils say:
“If there was no breakfast club I would be coming to school late, but I have something to look forward to in the morning.”
A staff member from Hill Mead said:
“Breakfast Club is important because in a lot of cases, we find children haven’t had anything since the previous day’s school lunch. More children seem to be saying they’re hungry than we have ever had before.”
The Department for Education have no plans to introduce free breakfasts but have said they are happy for schools to use their own resources to provide morning meals for needy pupils. Is there a possibility these new statistics will spur the government to act?