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TUC Congress 2020 A truly civilised society would not allow children to live in poverty

To ensure no child is left behind, the NEU making a series of calls upon the government. Joint general secretary KEVIN COURTNEY explains

THE spotlight that was shone on poverty during Covid-19 is not something we can forget or brush to one side. 

With schools and colleges returning this month, education is returning to some sort of normality. 

What has not changed is the way that poverty is impacting on the education and life chances of far too many children and young people.

In 2018-19 some 4.2 million in the UK were trapped in poverty. Shockingly, this means nine children in every class of 30. 

By Christmas, 200,000 more children will be pushed below the poverty line.

Our members tell us heartbreaking stories of areas pushed to breaking point. 

Schools running foodbanks to feed pupils and their families. Washing facilities opening in schools to clean uniforms. Children with holes in their shoes. Pupils pretending they don’t feel the cold because their families can’t afford to buy them a coat. 

Given these experiences, it is no surprise that these children found it more difficult to learn during lockdown without the support and structure schools give. 
Poverty leaves a myriad of problems in its wake. Poor, overcrowded or insecure housing, a lack of heating, never having enough to eat all impact on children and young people's learning. 
We know all these things because our members are on the front line, doing their best every day in sometimes impossible circumstances.
But these issues existed before lockdown and will continue after Covid-19. 

Measures such as the two-child cap on child benefit and the five-week delay to the first payment of universal credit that have had such a devastating impact on children, young people and their families were all voted through by the same politicians who now express concern about the impact of poverty on those families and children’s education. 

Cuts to school, college and local-authority budgets again have all been pushed through with no consideration to the impact this has on the ability to ensure every child gets the education and support they need.  

Closure of libraries and youth clubs. Services teachers relied on to help vulnerable children were cut to the bone or disappeared and Sure Start was decimated

Child poverty is not something we have to live with — its effects are real, lifelong and pernicious. 

A truly civilised society would not tolerate hungry, badly clothed children living acutely stressful lives, resulting in debilitating mental and physical problems. 

Our children get one chance at education. Be under no illusion — schools and colleges are in a dire situation and real solutions are needed.

To ensure no child is left behind the NEU is calling upon government to expand eligibility for free school meals for every child on universal credit, for free school meals to be expanded year-round to end holiday hunger, and to ensure school uniforms are affordable. 

Some 700,000 young people live in homes without internet access. To counter the digital divide and make sure no young person is left behind, the government must step up its scheme to provide free wifi access and laptops for disadvantaged children who don’t have this access and give schools a dedicated tech budget to combat the digital divide.

All of this is readily achievable. All of this is something that many in Parliament became aware about and greatly concerned about. 

The NEU will not let them forget and we will campaign tirelessly for change to ensure no child is left behind.  

Kevin Courtney is joint general secretary of the National Education Union.


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