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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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Niall Cooper: The school holiday hunger gap

Niall Cooper: The school holiday hunger gap

niall_cooperBreakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, increasing numbers of schoolchildren from low income families begin their day without it.

According to a recent survey for the NASUWT teachers’ union, in the past year nearly three-quarters of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, anxious and unable to concentrate because of family financial pressures. Growing numbers of teachers and schools are providing food, equipment and clothes for pupils as a result.

Teachers who took part in the survey said: “Many are parents working multiple low-pay jobs to make ends meet and then being unhappy at not being able to give the support of being there for their children;” “More children tell me that there is no one at home morning or evening or both (due to work shifts) and I have had to give out and purchase resources like pens etc for more students who, in tears, are admitting that they just have nothing to get these basics.” “Some families have been so poor, staff have donated food and toiletries to help them out.”

Food poverty not only leaves children hungry, it also has detrimental effects on the child’s health and ability to learn at school. A majority of teachers reported that financial pressures meant rising levels of anxiety among pupils; three-quarters reported pupils being absent from school and two-thirds said pupils had exhibited behavioural problems as a result. In the longer term, children from poorer families gain fewer qualifications than their richer classmates, they suffer more illness, get lower-paid jobs and have a shorter life expectancy…

Niall Cooper is Director of Church Action on Poverty. For community guidelines on providing meals for schoolchildren during holidays, visit


This is an extract from the May 2016 edition of Reform.

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