TEACHERS’ unions and charities joined the condemnation of the Tory policies that have driven over two million children into poverty.
Office for National Statistics figures published on Thursday recorded 2.3 million children living in poverty and 9.6 million individuals were on relative low incomes in 2013-14.
Meanwhile, the government is moving to change the definition of child poverty.
From the present definition of living in a household with an income below 60% of the UK’s average, the government plans to make it a moral issue such as not being in households with parents in long-term relationships or being in households where parents were addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, for example.
Commenting on the child poverty statistics, Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said on Thursday: ‘Today’s figures show that the government has nothing to offer when it comes to tackling child poverty.
‘Indeed, so resigned are they to this fact that they have announced plans to remove existing targets for getting child poverty down.
‘This is a disgrace coming from a government which presides over one of the wealthiest nations.
‘It is the poorest in society who are bearing the brunt of austerity measures. Unless the issue of child poverty is addressed, millions of children will never achieve their full potential.
‘Teachers are only too aware of the problems of poverty and, frankly, deprivation that face our pupils. They take their pastoral responsibility very seriously, but addressing society-wide inequity cannot be the task of schools alone.
‘Children and young people who arrive at school hungry, who live in poor housing and who cope with the daily struggle of living in households with little money, cannot learn as well as they could and should.
‘Teachers should do everything they can with every child – and they do. Politicians should do everything they can to eliminate poverty – but they don’t.’
Chris Keates, General Secretary of fellow teachers union NASUWT, said: ‘The figures show that child poverty levels have risen yet again, this is a shameful indictment of the economic and social policies of the coalition government.
‘It is equally shameful that the (Tory) government is committed to continuing the policies which have led to this anticipated rise.
‘Teachers are witnessing firsthand the impact of poverty on the children they teach.
‘Three-quarters of teachers recently surveyed by the NASUWT say they have witnessed more and more children coming to school too hungry to concentrate and without clothing and footwear appropriate to the weather conditions.
‘Children are increasingly being denied educational opportunities because of their parents’ inability to pay for educational visits.
‘Evidence shows that too many young people are choosing subject options on the basis, not of their skills and aspirations, but on the basis of whether their parents can afford the books, equipment and other resources a particular course demands.
‘Schools and teachers are being left to pick up the pieces.
‘The shattering of children’s life chances cannot simply be regarded as collateral damage.
‘Yet scandalously, rather than embarking on a strategy to tackle poverty and inequality, it now appears the government plans to change the definition of child poverty in an attempt to mask the terrible toll its policies are taking on our children and young people.
‘Our children and young people deserve better.’
Earlier this year the NASUWT released the findings of a survey of almost 2,500 teachers about their experiences of financial hardship and poverty among the children they teach.
• 78% said pupils are lacking energy and concentration as a result of eating poorly;
• 69% of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry
• 80% said pupils were arriving to school in clothes inappropriate for the weather conditions;
•24% said they had brought in food for hungry pupils themselves and 62% said they had lent or given pupils school equipment;
•56% said they had seen their school give food to pupils.
When asked about how financial pressures affect pupils, 72% said they were more likely to be absent from school, 65% said they were less able to concentrate in lessons, 60% said they caused behaviour problems and 40% said they felt alienated and disaffected.
Housing was reported as a significant problem, with 22% of respondents saying they knew of pupils who had lost their homes due to financial pressures, and 32% saying they had taught pupils who were living in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels.
Responding to the publication of the child poverty statistics, Chair of the End Child Poverty coalition David Holmes, said: ‘The announcement that 2.3 million children are still living in relative poverty, and that half a million more are living in absolute poverty since 2010, underlines just how much further there is to go if we are to eliminate child poverty in the UK.
‘It’s difficult to see how we’re going to make a difference to the childhoods and life chances of these millions of children without further concerted action at national level.
‘Thursday’s figures, showing the majority (64%) of poor children live in working families, are also a very clear warning about the damage cuts to tax credits for the low paid would inflict. This is also up from 55% in 2010.
‘All the main parties signed up to the legal targets to end child poverty so these latest figures ought to lead to a re-examination of the government’s approach to tackling child poverty.
‘Next month’s Budget should be an opportunity for the government to announce positive steps to reduce child poverty and not a moment for cuts to children’s benefits, like tax credits targeted at children in low income families.
‘With the annual cost of child poverty already £29 billion a year it must make good economic as well as moral sense for the government and indeed the whole nation to commit afresh to reducing and ultimately ending child poverty.
‘The childhoods and future life chances of millions of children are at stake here.’
Single parent charity Gingerbread warned that with around one in four (26 per cent) children whose single parent works is growing up in poverty, the situation only set to worsen if the government cuts tax credits.
Gingerbread said: ‘One in five (20 per cent) children with a single parent working full-time is growing up poor, while one in three (32 per cent) with a single parent working part-time is in poverty.
‘The risk of child poverty for single parent families is nearly twice as much as for couple families: 41 per cent of children in single parent families are in relative poverty, compared with 24 per cent of children in couple families.’
Single parent charity Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: ‘Two in five of the UK’s 3 million children in single parent families are below the poverty line – and work is not offering these families a guaranteed route out of poverty.
‘Single parent families have already been in the firing line of a barrage of welfare cuts – and this government’s claims to support working people are at odds with its plans to cut tax credits.
‘For a working single parent, striving to give their children the best future, this could mean a loss of up to £1,690 in a year. This is an attack on the low paid, with no clear plan for tackling poverty.
‘Gingerbread is calling for the government to halt plans for cuts to tax credits, improve into-work support for single parents and quickly bring through its promised increase to childcare support for low-income families.’