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Concerns over pupil hunger as one in five UK schools start food bank

A survey of teachers uncovered the shocking state of food poverty with some areas forced to start a school foodbank across the UK
Concerns continue to grow about the reliance of families on schools for help in feeding their children. Credit: Flickr

An overwhelming majority of teachers in Britain are concerned about pupils well being outside of term time after new research revealed one in five schools have started a food bank to provide emergency assistance to families.

A survey of school staff carried out last month uncovered the shocking state of food poverty in the most deprived areas of the UK, as a fifth of teachers reported that their own school had started a food bank during lockdown.

The situation has become increasingly worse throughout the pandemic with 83 per cent of teachers claiming that the January lockdown has put increased financial pressure on parents. Staff estimate that 19 per cent of children aren’t getting enough access to food during the ongoing set of restrictions.

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network said: “The Government should not be relying on food banks to support people unable to afford food let alone schools.

“Emergency food parcels, free school meals or breakfasts are all much needed stop gap measures which fail to address the underlying root causes of poverty.

“It’s income through adequate social security payments and wages that families really need not food banks run by volunteers or overstretched teachers. No amount of good will or surplus food will stop hunger from happening in the first place.”

A government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “We have been clear that we will support every child eligible for free school meals while they are learning remotely during the school term and we have increased the funding we give to schools so they continue to make sure eligible pupils are fed, whether through lunch parcels, local vouchers or our national voucher scheme.

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The study was carried out by YouGov for food manufacturer Kellogg’s and shows more than a third of teachers said their school delivered food parcels to pupils’ homes. A further 23 per cent had provided fresh fruit and vegetables to local families during the crisis.

Schools across the UK reported parents from different social backgrounds struggling to “make ends meet”, with staff often left having to dip into their own pockets to ensure children are not left hungry in the classroom.

One school in south Wales saw this need first hand and has transformed its own community organising as a result.

Pupils at Willowtown Community Primary School in Ebbw Vale returned to classrooms in September after months of home learning, with the school building used as a food distribution centre for the local council.

Since starting a food collection initiative for the local community as a one off at the start of term, weekly donations have continued, with Christmas hampers made up and deliveries going on over the holidays. Those working at the school say the latest lockdown has only exacerbated existing problems.

Headteacher Melanie Evans said: “Throughout the past six weeks whilst we have been remote learning all these initiatives have continued to happen.

“The process of food parcels and deliveries have really grown and in one sense its warming to see how many families are benefiting from this but in another sense, it is quite alarming to see how many are in need.”

Teachers now feel that schools are becoming increasingly key providers during the Covid-19 pandemic, with services for families in need often paid for by local charities, parent-teacher groups, councils and from school budgets

More than a quarter of 1,097 staff surveyed said they personally kept stores of food in case a child needed food during class hours.

When surveyed 47 per cent of teachers said they were concerned provision for children eligible for free school meals during holidays would be impacted by difficulty accessing vouchers, while more than half said families who haven’t accessed government funding before may not be unsure how to get help.

Feedback from teachers in the study was that better support should have been provided throughout this crisis with an increased quantity of food available from vouchers, uplifts to Universal Credit and access to fresh produce.

Those behind the survey have said they are now doing more themselves to tackle hunger among schoolchildren, particularly when restrictions ease.

Chris Silcock, Kellogg’s UK managing director said: “Our study highlights the hugely important role schools have played throughout the pandemic to help struggling families. This will need to continue post lockdown, so we want to do our bit to ensure that the children that have missed out on so much, don’t miss out on breakfast when schools reopen.”

One of the projects being supported by Kellogg’s is FareShare, who say demand for their service has “skyrocketed over the past year. The group say they work with hundreds of schools across the country now to respond to this growing need.

The charity say the government needs to do more so they can further expand their services, warning the level of support required in some communities is “acute”.

Lindsay Boswell, FareShare chief executive, said: “We therefore call on Government to urgently extend our Surplus with Purpose Fund, which enables us to work with the food industry to save more good food from waste – with just £5 million per year over the next two years we could double the amount of fresh fruit and veg we provide to children and families.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that we will support every child eligible for free school meals while they are learning remotely during the school term and we have increased the funding we give to schools so they continue to make sure eligible pupils are fed, whether through lunch parcels, local vouchers or our national voucher scheme.

“Wider support for school children is also available through our breakfast clubs programme, through the School Fruit and Veg Scheme, and via our significant investment in food distribution charities, including FareShare.

“We know many vulnerable families are struggling – that’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions, and introduced the Covid Winter Grant Scheme to ensure children and families are warm and fed. In April we will be increasing the value of our Healthy Start vouchers by over a third to help those in need with young children.”