Headteachers speaking at the National Education Union’s conference this month in Brighton highlighted an increase in the number of young pupils experiencing dire conditions of poverty in England and Wales.
Despite the Department of Education’s claim that the Tories have put into place a “social mobility action plan”, which “targets areas that need the most support,” teachers from around the country described in shocking detail the “grey skin”, “poor teeth” and “poor hair” of many students, whose families are simply unable to afford enough decent food. In a dystopian insight into the lives of the worst-off, children were said to be “filling their pockets” with food, in order to be able to eat at least one decent meal a day.
As well as the disastrous impact of poverty on the health of the children, teachers also noted that pupils from poorer families faced academic disadvantages as a result. “By the time it’s 9.30am they are tired” explained Louise Regan, a headteacher from Nottinghamshire. This puts economically worse-off pupils at both a physical and mental disadvantage compared to those from wealthier backgrounds. She explained the stark contrast between her pupils and those from “schools in an affluent area,” saying that those growing up in poverty had noticeably “grey skin.” Her school has had to start providing food packages for some students who regularly come into school having barely eaten.
As well as a lack of food, teachers also revealed striking details of children with unwashed clothes, no heating at home and even children without access to suitable bedding. Howard Payne, a head teacher from Portsmouth, directly connected the neglect and suffering of these children with their economic situation, explaining: “Every one of these issues has had something to do with the poverty that they live in.” During the snow earlier this year, Mr Payne’s school stayed open and provided hot meals for almost half of its students, as he was “worried…that they wouldn’t have a hot meal to eat that day.”
The increase in child poverty is a direct result of the harsh cuts and brutal policies of the Tory government. Alison Garnham from the Child Poverty Action Group said that “it is time to rebuild the safety net for struggling families” after around half of 900 schools surveyed by the group were found to be providing additional help (food, clothes etc.) for impoverished children, as a result of a lack of sufficient government support in these areas. It is a disgrace that schools already under pressure from funding cuts must pick up the pieces following brutal austerity attacks on social services and the welfare state.
The working class is forced to shoulder the burden of capitalism’s organic crisis, and the poorest suffer most of all – children included. There is absolutely no need for children to be malnourished in Britain today: we produce more than enough food for everyone in society – and the anarchic nature of capitalist production means that much of that food is wasted. Under socialism, we could provide state-run canteens offering wholesome and nutritious meals, paid for through the expropriated wealth of the bankers and bosses. As it stands, capitalism literally takes food out of children’s mouths.
The barbarity of capitalism knows no bounds and only by opposing the Tories and by fighting for socialism can we build a society in which no child must go hungry.
by Oliver Brotherton, KCL Marxists