Throughout March this year, the National Union of Teachers, NUT, conducted a survey of its members working in primary schools to seek their experiences of the extent of holiday hunger among their pupils and how this was impacting on children's education, health and wellbeing. Nationally, over six hundred primary school members responded to the survey. And the results are shocking...
* Over half (51%) of respondents said that pupils at their school were affected by holiday hunger. Almost two-fifths (39%) of these said it was affecting more than a quarter of pupils in their school, with 12% saying half or more of their pupils experienced holiday hunger.
* 80% of survey respondents who said that pupils in their school were affected by holiday hunger reported that the numbers affected had increased over the last two years.
* 78% of respondents who had witnessed holiday hunger among their pupils said that children were turning up to school showing signs of hunger; and more than a third (37%) said that pupils were returning to school with signs of malnourishment.
* Almost three quarters (73%) said that their pupils' education was being negatively affected as a consequence of holiday hunger.
* 69% said that pupils' social wellbeing was negatively affected by holiday hunger; and 57% said that their physical health was impacted.
* 15% of respondents said they were aware of initiatives run locally (e.g. by the local authority, by charitable or voluntary organisations or by faith groups) to tackle hunger during the school holidays. These were considered either effective or highly effective by 69% of those who had knew about them.
According to Salford City Council, 23% of children in the city currently live in poverty Ė that's seven pupils in every class of thirty. While many children from poor families are eligible for free school meals during school term time, this NUT survey shows that many are suffering from 'holiday hunger' when the schools are closed.
Some of the comments from teachers who took part in the survey underline the point...
...'Child hunger is terrible but what makes it even worse is when we claim to be such a rich country. Families should not have to be starving and in some cases it is working families who really suffer. What sort of country are we living in where people work and cannot afford to eat?'
...'It's heart-breaking to hear children not wanting holidays because they don't get to eat enough or to go out but mainly for the food reason. Also...to see particular children waiting for second servings or piling their plate with the unlimited amount of salad that is available.'
...'I believe our local Sure Start children's centre used to remain open during school holidays to support families until it was closed down last year.'
...'A large number of pupils are consistently hungry, not just in the holidays. Weekends are a particularly worrying time for pupils and a large number of pupils have just one main meal a day (school lunch).'
...'An increasing number of children arrive at school hungry. The only full meal they get is a free school dinner. Grants should fund those disadvantaged families during the holiday period as well as at school too.'
"These are heart-breaking findings which lay bare the terrible impact of poverty on the lives and educational experiences of many children" says NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney, responding to the findings of the union's survey "This situation should not be tolerated at all, let alone be allowed to persist in the sixth richest economy in the world.
"As this survey demonstrates, teachers are acutely aware of the distressing effects of poverty on the children they teach" he explains "When children come to school hungry or malnourished, this has a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing and it also impairs their ability to learn by reducing their ability to concentrate.
"Teachers are working hard to achieve the best outcomes for their pupils but the challenges they face as a result of poverty are increasing, not diminishing, under this Government" he adds
Referencing cuts to benefits and the likely affect on poorer families and pupils, Kevin Courtney says "It is deeply concerning that instead of tackling poverty, the Government seems intent on enacting policies which will further increase it...
"The Government" he insists "needs to take urgent action and adopt a serious poverty reduction strategy, including the implementation of universal free school meals for all primary children and measures to tackle holiday hunger..."