English Schools Provide Clothing and Food to Children Amid Cost of Living Crisis

by Ella

As the cost of living crisis intensifies, English schools have taken on an unexpected role by distributing clothing and food to children in need. A recent survey of schools across England has unveiled the growing extent of the issue, with nine out of 10 institutions confirming that they are now offering clothing and uniforms to students. Furthermore, seven out of 10 schools have begun providing food assistance in various forms, including food parcels, food bank provisions, vouchers, or subsidized breakfasts.

The survey, which revealed these distressing findings, also exposed a concerning trend of deteriorating hygiene among pupils as families face the harsh realities of economic strain. Teachers reported that some families are reducing basic hygiene practices, such as brushing teeth, showering, and even flushing toilets, due to financial constraints.


The study, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), indicated that over 80% of senior leaders in schools have witnessed a surge in demand for additional support services. This increase has been particularly pronounced in the most disadvantaged schools, both in terms of the number of children in need and the severity of their needs.


The mental health of students has also suffered significantly, with one in four pupils in mainstream schools and two out of five in special schools now requiring additional mental health support. These distressing figures reflect the broader toll that economic stress is taking on family life.


The NFER’s report, published on Thursday, paints a concerning picture of undernourished and poorly groomed children whose basic needs are going unmet as their parents grapple with financial hardships. Consequently, schools are increasingly being called upon to provide welfare support.


Teachers have expressed their concerns regarding the lack of vital specialist equipment, such as wheelchairs and mobility aids, for some children in special schools. Additionally, a rise in student illness has been attributed to inadequate heating in homes and poor nutrition, which, in turn, affects school attendance.

Financial constraints have also led to some students missing school due to their parents’ inability to afford transportation costs. Alarming statistics show that 90% of primary, secondary, and special schools are now required to subsidize extracurricular activities for certain pupils.

One special school teacher recounted, “Recently on a school trip, we thought pupils were presenting with behavior issues when they didn’t flush [the] toilet. But it turned out they are not allowed to waste water and flush at home. The same went for brushing teeth and having showers. Hygiene is really poor and getting worse.”

A mainstream school teacher added, “So many of our students are struggling with behavior and mental health issues because life is harder outside school.” Another emphasized, “The worst thing is the hidden poverty and the fact that we cannot support everyone. We are seeing an increase in safeguarding concerns as a result of strained parental relationships.”

The NFER’s survey, encompassing responses from 2,500 senior teachers and leaders, also revealed a rise in poor behavior and pupil absence. A senior leader with 25 years of experience stated, “I have been in education 25 years … we have never experienced anything like what we are going through at present.”

Schools are stepping in to fill support gaps as teachers face challenges accessing external agencies like children and young people’s mental health services. One teacher expressed the burden they face, saying, “We have to take on the burden of completing lengthy forms with families in order for them to access children’s services family support. We are not trained social workers yet we are being asked to do this work.”

Furthermore, the study highlighted that it is not only the most disadvantaged children, who qualify for additional pupil premium funding, that require support. Over three-fifths of mainstream schools reported that 50% or more of pupils receiving additional support did not meet the pupil premium criteria.

Jenna Julius, the NFER’s research director and co-author of the report, underscored the profound impact of the cost of living crisis on pupils and their families. She warned, “Without urgent action now, there is a risk that the crisis will have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on pupils.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment regarding the growing challenges faced by schools and students across England.



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