TEACHERS are being forced to stock up on supplies to feed starving children whose families can’t afford to buy food.
More and more youngsters – some as young as four – are going to school hungry and desperate, education leaders in Portsmouth have claimed.
It comes after shocking figures released by union GMB revealed almost one in 10 school staff spend their wages on food for needy pupils, desperate for breakfast.
The situation has sparked fears of a ‘crisis’ in Portsmouth, with campaigners now demanding for action from the government.
Amanda Martin, is the National Education Union’s vice-president, and represents teachers in the city.
She said the situation in Portsmouth was critical, with struggling families close to breaking point.
‘This absolutely is a crisis,’ she said. ‘We’re the sixth-richest country in the world, yet we have got kids in our country and our city living in deprivation and going to school hungry. That’s not right.
‘Teachers and support staff have always brought in food for pupils. Where it used to be one or two kids who needed help, now it’s grown to five, six or seven in some cases.
‘This is happening all over our deprived city. I don’t think there are any teachers in this city who don’t have cereal bars in their drawers for kids that haven’t had breakfast.’
GMB surveyed thousands of classroom-based school staff, with eight per cent saying they have spent their own money on food for hungry pupils.
Staff reported children coming to school without having eaten breakfast, or with no money for food at break times.
Karen Leonard, GMB national officer, said it was a national scandal, and added: ‘It beggars belief that in one of the richest countries in the world not only are kids coming into school starving – but this government is cutting free school dinners at the same time.
‘Hungry children cannot learn effectively – Conservative cuts to education are endangering the future of an entire generation of young people.
‘Meanwhile dedicated staff are left out of pocket because they refuse to allow kids to go hungry.
‘It’s a scandal – and only properly funding our schools can give our kids the education they deserve.’
City education boss Suzy Horton said she ‘wasn’t surprised’ by the revelation.
She said schools were already facing unprecedented levels of cuts and were having ‘to do more with less’.
And while teachers had always offered food to the neediest youngsters, the situation was escalating and becoming more pronounced, she claimed.
Councillor Horton, who was a former teacher for 18 years, said: ‘I know what it’s like.
‘I remember when I was a deputy head in London we used to wash kids’ uniforms and give breakfast to children who came to school hungry.
‘Teachers do an incredible job but they are being forced to do more with ever-decreasing budgets.
‘You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that if your funding is being cut, you have less money to play with.’
Parents have since told of their concerns as the cost of living continues to increase, piling more pressure on already-strained budgets.
Natalie Abraham, of Milton, runs the Milton Stay and Play group, and deals with dozens of families from across the city.
The mum-of-four said parents were struggling to cope with their budgets.
She felt the roll out of the government’s new benefits system – universal credit, which came to Portsmouth last week – could see more families on low incomes unable to put food on the table.
The 36-year-old, who sits on the city’s parent carer board support network, said: ‘It’s very daunting for parents. They very worried about the impact of universal credit.’
She is now urging the government to increase cash to schools and fund free meals for all children.
Her comments come just days after hundreds of headteachers – including many from Hampshire – marched on Whitehall to demand a funding boost for schools after years of cuts.
Charity Home-Start Portsmouth runs budget advice sessions called Budget Buddies for parents in need of support. For more details on this, visit one of the city’s six Family Hubs or call Home-Start on 02392 734400.