Thousands underweight as they enter year 6, MPs’ report warns

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Increasing numbers of school children are starting their first and final years of primary school underweight, MPs have warned.

Data from the National Child Measurement Programme, reported by MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger (APPG), shows that last year in England 6,367 children started reception underweight – an increase of 16 per cent since 2012.

Furthermore, 7,663 children started their final year of primary school underweight – an increase of 15 per cent since 2012.

The fifth report of the APPG, entitled Britain’s Not-so-Hidden Hunger, raises concerns that there is still no uniform data on childhood hunger, but includes evidence that a significant proportion of children are arriving at school hungry each day.

A number of snapshot surveys were carried out for the report, including in APPG chair Frank Field’s own constituency of Birkenhead, where one school estimated that 20 per cent of children arrive hungry each day. Another school put this figure at 27 per cent.

Evidence from South Shields, meanwhile, suggests that increasing numbers of teachers are providing snacks for hungry pupils on an ad hoc basis.

Schools and local authorities in the report blame this hunger on a range of factors, including parental unemployment or low pay. In some extreme cases parental neglect was to blame.

The report adds: “An important question must be to what extent this ‘one in five’ figure relating to hungry children is an extreme occurrence, or whether it represents a more uniform pattern across the country. Can it really be true that a group of children that is equal in size to those who are eligible to receive free school meals, comes to school hungry each day?”

Some of the schools involved in the research also suggested that for a number of pupils, school lunch was the only meal they received each day. Others report that there are pupils who do not receive regular meals during school holidays or at weekends.

The report praises the work of breakfast clubs and suggests a national programme of free school breakfast clubs could be one solution. It says this could be funded by additional Pupil Premium money raised by automatically registering all eligible pupils for free school meals.

Mr Field said: “Too many people in Britain are hungry. How many? We do not know. A very large part of this group of hungry people are children. Again we have only impressions which suggest that too many children have hunger as their most constant companion.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “As one of the richest countries in the world food banks should not be a necessity and children should not be undernourished. The inequalities that are widening in our society must be addressed.”

The report can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1U1xtay


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