UK classroom
UK teachers are bringing in food to give to children, because their parents cannot afford to give them breakfast Getty

Children are living in Victorian levels of poverty, teachers in the UK have warned, saying that pupils frequently turn up ill at school because their parents cannot afford to take time off work to care for them.

Some teachers bring in food to give to hungry children, according to a survey commissioned by Britain's largest teachers' union, which says that the lives of many children and young people "are being blighted and degraded by poverty and homelessness".

According to a survey commissioned by the NASUWT, children are "coming to school hungry and unable to concentrate, exhausted from living in cramped and inadequate housing and unable to afford to join in activities such as school trips".

One teacher surveyed said: "Children in 2015 should not be hungry and coming to school with no socks on and no coats – some children are living in Victorian conditions – in the inner cities."

Another said they had seen: "Pupils who come into school unwell. Often their parents cannot afford to take a day off work, and therefore send their children to school when they ought to be at home."

Government generating 'poverty and homelessness'

Of the 2,452 teachers surveyed, 78% had seen pupils lacking energy and concentration as a result of eating poorly, 69% had seen pupils coming to school hungry, and 80% had seen pupils attending school in inappropriate winter clothing.

In addition, 24% of teachers had brought in food for hungry pupils themselves, and 62% said they had lent or given pupils equipment for lessons.

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.

The NASUWT general secretary, Chris Keates, said: "These are truly shocking statistics that show the lives of children and young people are being blighted and degraded by poverty and homelessness."

"Poverty and homelessness take a physical and emotional toll on children. They often cannot concentrate when they are in school because they are tired and hungry, have no space to do homework and have to travel long distances to get to school from temporary accommodation. They are likely to suffer more ill health and absenteeism," she added.

"The government has a responsibility to tackle, not generate, poverty and homelessness."

Fewer children in poverty

A Conservative spokesman said that under the coalition government, "the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 300,000".

He added that because of the pupil premium, the poorest pupils are getting an extra £2.5bn targeted at their education each year, which is already closing the attainment gap with their peers.

"Because of our policies, there are more jobs than ever before, wages are rising faster than prices and with the lowest inflation on record, family budgets are starting to go further. The NASUWT should recognise how the Conservatives have rescued the economy, and through that, delivering the jobs that secure a better future for families," he said.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said they had introduced "free early years education for the poorest two-year-olds, and free school meals for all infant children," as part of the coalition government.

"We agree that there is more to do to ease the squeeze on family budgets and build a fairer society. We will cut income tax by a further £400 for low and middle earners, and ensure more families can access free childcare… we will also aim to extend free school meals to all children in primary school."

Speaking to the annual NASUWT conference in Cardiff on Saturday (4 April), Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt pledged that Labour would renew the aim to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

He told delegates: "If a child has no food to eat, no safe and warm space to call their own, no books to read, no uniform to wear, no money for transport to school, then that child cannot possibly be learning at their full potential."