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Schools ‘propping up failing welfare state’ during pandemic by providing basic needs to families

SCHOOLS in England have been “propping up a failing welfare state” during the Covid-19 crisis by providing essential goods, such as food and clothes, to families, according to research published today.

Pressures linked to the pandemic led more families to turn to schools as an important source of support, according to University College London.

Schools in areas with high levels of poverty shouldered a greater burden in addressing families’ problems relating to food insecurity and inadequate housing, including a flat with a rat infestation.

Researchers warned that pupil premium funding, which is targeted at poorer children, does not cover “the work schools do to support children living in poverty or struggling with difficult issues at home.”

Schools reported dealing with pupils in need of food and clothing, families in housing with inadequate space and resources to maintain learning at home and children experiencing domestic violence.

One head teacher said: “What we’ve noticed over time was that the people who were coming to our food pantry — and we still run it now — weren’t the free school meal parents.

“It was this tier just above, the people who’d been furloughed, the people who had always had a job.”

The report stressed that the current funding settlement on offer to schools was insufficient to fix the system’s many problems, which Covid-19 “so sharply revealed.”

It said: “Schools recognise levels of poverty that the current welfare system ignores, precisely because they are so closely connected to their communities.”

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton pointed out that the findings were not just a product of the pandemic but of a decade of austerity.

“Whatever the government’s mantra of ‘levelling-up’ is supposed to mean, there surely cannot be any greater need than that of tackling the scourge of child poverty,” he said.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman warned: “Poverty and inequality will remain entrenched in the UK unless the government takes urgent action.”

National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said that the coronavirus crisis had exposed the endemic poverty and inequality in Britain.

“It is vital that the government takes urgent action to create the conditions in which all children can thrive and learn and ensure that no child is held back as a result of poverty,” he added.

A government spokeswoman said that ministers had supported the most disadvantaged throughout the pandemic.

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