Food poverty talks of the number of families, including working families, who need to use a food bank in Scotland today. As a teacher, I want to focus briefly on the reality of that situation for our children and the impact it has on their learning.
We know that there are hungry children in our classrooms every day because they come to school having had no breakfast and for far too many of our children, the school meal is the main meal, if not the only meal they will have each day. Often working families are considered to be too well off to qualify for school meals but with static wages and the rising cost of everyday necessities, parents simply haven’t got the income to afford school meals for one or more children. These children exist on minimal packed lunches to sustain them throughout the school day. A packed lunch which doesn’t contain the same quantity or quality of food that their peers may have and lack the vital nutrients to allow their bodies to grow and develop. The EIS welcomed the initiative to provide free school meals for children in Primary 1 to Primary 3, not least for the benefits to children’s health and the family budget. The EIS hope that this initiative will not only be sustained but will be extended to include all children in our schools. Around 70% of families suffering from food poverty with children in primary education rely, in some part, on food supplied by schools, either through free school meals or food given out by breakfast or after school clubs. School holidays see a large number of children going hungry and more than a quarter of parents suffering from some form of food poverty said they were unable to provide food for all the meals their children need during the school holidays.
The impact of hunger on the educational attainment of our young people cannot be overestimated. Children who are hungry are unable to concentrate; they are tired and often disinterested in their lessons because their focus isn’t on a future career, it is on where their next meal is coming from. The evidence shows that children’s long term life chances are limited by the barriers that are created by their inability to engage with their learning. The EIS believe it is unacceptable that we have hungry children in our schools. We believe that all young people deserve a fair chance to reach their potential, but the reality is that many children across Scotland are coming to school hungry and this is having a detrimental impact on their ability to learn. It is simply unacceptable, in a modern and affluent country, for any child to have to come to school hungry. Action is needed now to reduce the impact of poverty and to provide all children with a fair chance to succeed. I would urge you to support putting an end to end food poverty in Scotland and ensure that all of our children are healthy, well fed and achieving their potential.