The ever-reported effects of austerity are being keenly felt by pupils, parents and teachers alike – and a new study shows this all too clearly. The research, commissioned by In Kind Direct, an organisation that helps distribute surplus consumer goods from big brands to good causes, reveals that 80% of teachers have noticed a rise over the past five years in children attending school unwashed or not presentable – and have found themselves having to intervene at an increasing rate.
A shocking 50% of teachers surveyed said they provide pupils with essential items like washing powder, soap and shampoo on a weekly basis and the charity found 14% of parents of primary-school-aged children admit to struggling to afford basic necessities. More than four in 10 parents who took part in the survey said they have had to go without necessary hygiene or cleaning products because they can’t afford them, and almost one in five admitted that their child had no choice but to wear the same underwear at least two days in a row.
The online survey posed questions to 100 primary-school teachers and 2,000 parents across the UK. In Kind Direct’s Robin Boles said: “Teachers are increasingly being relied upon to step in to provide pupils with everyday essential products because their parents simply can’t afford to make ends meet.
“Alongside this, we have seen a sharp rise in the number of people who are increasingly relying on support from the charities across the UK to which we supply products.
“No child’s education and future life chances should be compromised because of the stigma they face, simply because their families can’t afford the hygiene products to keep themselves clean.”
The frankly Dickensian state of UK schools is truly abhorrent
Unsurprisingly, the issues surrounding hygiene poverty extend far beyond cleanliness. Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson said it has a “devastatingly negative effect on a child’s psychological development, not just on their health but also on their confidence, self-esteem, social relationships and class work.”
“We want all children to have the very best chances in life,” a government spokesman said when asked about the report. “We know that the best route out of poverty is through employment, and since 2010 an extra three million people are now in work and 300,000 fewer children are living in absolute poverty. Meanwhile, we spend around £90bn a year on working-age benefits, including for those on low incomes.”
The problem isn’t simply parents and carers lacking the funds to provide for children, however. Schools where so many disadvantaged children are given necessities their parents cannot provide have been struggling to provide pupils with basics, too. The In Kind report comes after the surfacing of a harrowing “wish list” collated by pupils at St Edmund Campion Catholic Primary School, which asked for parents to help purchase supplies such as pens, Blu Tack and pencils.
The school, which is in Theresa May’s constituency, also included requests for Sellotape, A3 paper and stated it was in need of a “neverending supply” of toilet paper. Several other schools have pleaded with parents for basics, too; another school, St Mary’s C of E Primary School in East Grinstead, West Sussex, used an Amazon wish list to plea for rubbers, rulers and dictionaries, and a wish list attributed to Woolhampton C of E Primary School in Berkshire asked for safety signs that read “Please close this door” and “Keep off”, alongside easy-to-read wall clocks. The frankly Dickensian state of UK schools is truly abhorrent.