I’ve snuck food into the bags of children I teach so they don’t go hungry – is this the society we want?

Charlotte Rushford
Protesters in London demanded free school meals for children in England on Saturday (REUTERS)
Protesters in London demanded free school meals for children in England on Saturday (REUTERS)

I have been a teacher in East London for just over 16 years and I love my job, I really do. I love the children and the parents that I work with, but at times it is hard, and at times it is heart-breaking.

My job has shown me the very best of humanity and the very worst. I have laughed and I have cried, and in the past few days I have done both.

Last week at school we celebrated Black History Month and our children learnt about black British heroes. Our children were told about Marcus Rashford and his free school meals campaign to provide all vulnerable children with food each day over the holiday period. We taught them how it is important to stand up for what is right and that there are people in the world who care about the children of Britain.

Now more than 300 MPs voted against providing free school meals for children in the holidays. How do I tell our children this? How do I let them go home at the end of term knowing that they might not get to eat a meal every day?

The government can spare the cash for private firms, such as Serco to be involved in the test and trace process, but they can't find the money to feed our country's poorest children.

Thirty per cent of children live in poverty and since austerity was triggered in 2010, the gap between rich and poor has been exacerbated by this unempathetic government. It's taken a young footballer to point out the obvious: the Tories are starved of compassion and are more than happy to see our children go without.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of people shocked and saddened at the statistics showing how many children live in poverty. However, it definitely won’t be a surprise to any teacher. It most definitely wasn’t a surprise me.

I have seen first-hand families who have struggled, well before the pandemic. As well as children who came to school just for the food they could access.

I have seen first-hand children not being able to focus in the morning as they haven’t eaten since the lunchtime before.

I have seen first hand children trying to sneak fruit into their bag at the end of the day so that they have something to eat when they get home.

I have snuck fruit, biscuits, and crisps into the bags of children as they are going home, just to ensure they don’t go to bed on an empty stomach.

I have paid for children to come to breakfast club so that they start the day with food in their stomach.

It’s hard teaching kids who are living in poverty. You have a constant feeling inside you that you aren’t doing enough, aren’t giving enough, aren’t being enough.

In my 16 years of working I have dealt with homelessness, gang-related murder, families torn apart by drug abuse and domestic violence, extreme poverty — the list could go on and on. All of this is separate from the job that teachers are paid (and trained) to do. And all of this is done without a fuss, without people knowing about it.

It’s unfair that teachers have to worry about their children during the holidays, we should be able to trust our government to look after them. Yes, I know that free school meals are not provided normally during the holidays, but I think we can all agree that these are not normal times.

At any point, any one of us could fall on hard times, and what kind of society do we live in if we are unable to help people in their time of need? What society do we live in if we are willing to let a child go hungry?

I don’t want to be part of a society where MPs can scoff a free lunch while children are at home through no fault of their own missing out on food, because someone decided this doesn't need to be funded. I don’t want to be part of a society where people think that children should suffer because of something that has happened to their parents. I don’t want any child to go hungry this holiday.

Today, I will go shopping to buy supplies for my local food bank — the government might not be willing to help, but this morning I have woken up to a Facebook feed full of restaurants, cafes and local charities that are willing to feed our children, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Marcus Rashford has been given an honour for raising this issue and yet his plea to continue providing free meals during the holidays has been ignored. Shame on you parliament, not in my name.

The author is a teacher in East London. They are writing under a pseudonym

Read more

How to get food help over half term

Hancock dodges questions over extra funding in free school meals row

PM facing growing backbench revolt over handling of school meals row

Hancock dodges questions over extra funding in free school meals row