Rise in poor and hungry schoolchildren prompts demands for government action

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 7 July 2017 in News

Teachers are personally providing food and money for poverty-stricken pupils, a teaching union has learned.

Image credit: Flickr creative commons

A rise in the number of children arriving at school hungry and lacking basic provisions has prompted demands for urgent and decisive action from Scotland's governments.

Teachers are personally providing food and money for children living in poverty, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has learned.

The teaching union said the "outrage" follows years of under-funding of comprehensive education - which is devolved - but the Scottish Government said it highlights the impact of UK Tory austerity.

Opposition parties urged the SNP to use its new devolved benefits to boost family incomes.

The EIS survey found over half (51%) of teachers had either personally helped poorer pupils or know a colleague who has while 49% said their school had stepped in.

Assistance included providing food, buying clothes, providing spending money for school trips and organising food bank donations.

Three-fifths of the 288 respondants said they had seen a rise in children showing signs of poverty, with over half reporting children arriving with little or no food or money, and nearly three-quarters noting a rise in children without stationary, bags or equipment.

Over three-quarters (77%) saw signs of mental ill-health, while over half (56%) have witnessed physical symptoms like lethargy and unhealthy pallor.

Almost half (46%) said more pupils were unable to complete homework that required computer access at home.

Andrea Bradley, EIS assistant secretary for education and equality, said: "Urgent and decisive action at all levels of government is essential to prevent further damage. Children's education and life chances cannot continue to be sacrificed in the name of austerity."

She welcomed additional funding for schools from the Scottish Government but said it was "against a backdrop of successive years of under-funding of comprehensive education, which must be addressed".

A Scottish Government spokeswoman highlighted the "devastating impact of the UK Government's policy of continued austerity".

"It is deeply worrying that the impact of these polices is being increasingly seen by teachers," she said.

The SNP has delivered £120m more to of schools from £750m fund tackle the attainment gap and provided £350m to mitigate benefit cuts, she added.

Scottish Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon urged SNP ministers to use all their powers to ensure children are properly fed and equipped.

"The austerity agenda driven by the Tories may have caused a lot of these problems but SNP cuts are ripping support out of schools," she said.

The Child Poverty Bill also proposes statutory targets to cut child poverty by 2030.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "With new devolved social security powers, Scotland can boost the incomes of families that are struggling, for example by topping up child benefit by £5 a week which would lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

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