One in three teachers are providing pupils with basic hygiene products such as toothpaste and soap amid soaring child poverty rates, a new study shows.
Eight in ten primary school teachers have said they had seen a rise in the numbers of children coming to school unwashed or not looking presentable in the last five years and have found themselves intervening at an increasing rate.
A survey carried out by UK charity In Kind Direct also revealed nearly one in five (18 per cent) of teachers say they have to resort to doing this every single week, with the problem starkest in London – where 50 per cent do this weekly – and in the North East, where the figure stands at 29 per cent.
Child poverty rates have surged in recent years, with one million more children in working households now growing up in poverty than did so in 2010, largely because of cuts to in-work benefits and public sector pay freezes.
Nicola Finney, head teacher at St Paul’s Primary School in Stoke on Trent, told The Independent around 18 per cent – or nearly one in five – of her pupils’ families were receiving products from the school, as growing numbers of households are “falling on hard times”.
“I’ve worked in primary schools for 12 years and I’ve definitely seen an increase over the last five years. It can range from seeing a child wearing the same shirt for a few days, or noticing that they haven’t washed when they get changed for PE. We won’t stand by if we know people are in need,” she said. “It’s not always an impact on families that are on benefits – it can be self-employed families or those made redundant. More and more households are falling on hard times...I didn’t come into the profession to see children suffer. If we can help in any way that’s what we will do.”
Dr Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist, said: “Children’s self-esteem is greatly affected by the reaction of those around them – and if they are stigmatised, ridiculed or rejected by their peers because of poor basic hygiene, their sense of self-worth will quickly nose-dive. That’s why hygiene poverty has such 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.”
And, of course, it is not just school-kids who suffer.
A homeless person dies every two weeks in London, figures have revealed. The charity St Mungo’s said 158 rough sleepers died in the capital between 2010 and 2017 – a figure campaigners have branded “nothing short of a national scandal”.
Petra Salva, director of rough sleepers at St Mungo’s, told The Independent she believed the figures were an underestimation, with some being “missed altogether" because the government does not record homeless death statistics at a national level and local authorities are not required to record them.
Data shows a steep increase in the proportion of people dying who have mental health issues, which rose from 29 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2017. The outreach survey also shows 70 per cent said access to mental health services had become harder over the last five years.
Salva said, “We know that people with mental health needs – whether diagnosed or undiagnosed – are likely to end up sleeping rough for longer – and that’s mainly because the help isn’t fast enough. The truth is that there’s not enough help out there. We’ve definitely seen a correlation between cuts to mental health services and the rise in homeless deaths." A report published by the charity today shows 64 per cent of outreach services said access to emergency accommodation for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable. We also know that there are things the government can do today to help stop this scandal, including reviews into deaths, removing the threat of funding reform for homeless hostels, and quicker decision-making around immigration for people stuck on the streets,” he added.
The number of people sleeping rough in England hit a record-high earlier this year – after a 73 per cent increase over the last three years. Official government data shows that on any given night in autumn last year, 4,751 people were recorded sleeping on the streets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2010.