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Hungry Children In UK Schools Left Unfed

We often hear about the hunger crisis in war-torn countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Yemen to name a few, which makes it inconceivable that such hunger could get a foothold in a developed country like the UK; it is even less conceivable that it could affect our school children today. The distance can no longer mask the tragedy as a passing thought, it is an issue that is all too real to us now.

As a child, I remember our school would encourage participation in the shoe-box appeal around this time of year, in which we would fill an old shoe box with cheap little goodies for boys and girls abroad less well-off than us. However, it seems as though such thoughtfulness should also be directed to people struggling to make ends meet in our own society these days. It is believed that one in seven children go to school without having had breakfast, and this is only increasing according to a report published by Kellogg’s, based on findings collected by YouGov, conducted with more than 700 teachers in England and Wales.

 Additionally, there are many accounts of heart-breaking stories emerging this year of children eating rubbers, or hiding in the playground because they cannot afford lunch. One account tells us that a school in Lewisham, south-east London, told the charity Chefs In Schools about a child who was ‘pretending to eat out of an empty lunchbox’ because they did not qualify for free school meals and did not want their friends to know there was no food at home. It is believed that the government has abandoned schools to deal with this mounting crisis on its own amid rising inflation and a chronic lack of investment in schools. 

Children in the UK qualify for free school meals if they are in a public school in reception class, year 1, or year 2, or if their family receives universal credit and has a household income of less than £7,400. Meanwhile, a lot of children — some 800,000 according to the Guardian — miss out as they are the ‘invisible hungry’: those who are in poverty but do not meet the criteria for the free-school meal scheme. 

So, what implications does this have on children and society? The Kellogg’s report tells us that if a child arrives at school hungry once a week they will lose 8.4 weeks of learning time, that is 70% of a term over the whole of their primary school education. This then has an impact on teachers, already famously strained in their abilities to teach, as 31% of them say they must spend a disproportionately higher amount of teaching time with children who arrive hungry to their classrooms, due to their lack of focus, than with those who are not hungry. This then affects the national economy, already pressed by recent political blunders, the energy implications of Russian aggression, and the pandemic recovery, as the grip of hunger could potentially cost at least £5.2 million a year through teachers losing teaching hours to cope with their pupils’ hunger.

 What is to be done?

Breakfast clubs are a good way to combat the hunger crisis. They offer children a safe, friendly, and relaxed space where they can feel satisfied with a nice breakfast. These are cost-effective at just £4,000 per year to run. The report tells us that 69% of teachers are convinced a breakfast club positively impacts their ability to teach their class. Not only this, but these clubs can foster a healthy lifestyle in school children, encouraging them to live well and be happy. 

This itself is a promising prospect considering child obesity rates have reached as high as 25.5% for 10-11 year-olds (children in year 6), and a further 15.4% for being overweight. Though seemingly ironic considering the lack of food children are consuming at school, it shows us that the food being eaten is unhealthy snacks that are a lot cheaper than healthier foods. ‘Infancy and childhood are critical periods for growth and development, and good nutrition is important to obtain the best outcomes,’ says Professor Mary Fewtrell, Nutrition Lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. This stresses the need for affordable healthy foods, which these breakfast clubs go some way to providing pupils.

Another solution is to reconsider the supply chain operations; action on this is already being taken. FareShareis a national network of charitable food redistributors, made up of 18 independent organizations. They ensure that food that would otherwise have been thrown away is redistributed to community groups like charities, breakfast clubs, homeless shelters, etc. This altruistic mission is effective as FareShare claims it has managed to create almost a million meals for vulnerable people. In fact, donators at Tesco supermarket have raised more than 2.4 million meals for FareShare’s Winter Food Collection at the beginning of December this year.

Unfortunately, however, these solutions have been exhausted by the unprecedented level of demand. This stems from a mixture of issues that have stunted efficiency and logistics, like the cost-of-living crisis and the supply chain suffering from the implications of the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Head of Development at FareShare Midlands has said to Channel Five News that they are ‘asking the government to help unlock surplus food for us. We know there are two million tons of surplus food out there that’s still good to eat and could go to people and through their help neutralize the cost of the food industry so it costs them the same as it would send it to the waste’. 

So, with donations and public efforts at an all-time high, even during hard times, let us hope the government will begin to take serious action in helping to take this burden away from children going forward.

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Tags: #hungercrisis #schoolchildren #whatistobedone?


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