The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries on earth. Our economy consistently ranks in the top 10 for size and development, and our richest populations increased their wealth by £66 billion in the last year alone. Take a look inside our country’s classrooms however and you will find a very different story.

Schools across the UK are facing a food poverty crisis. 40% of headteachers report setting up foodbanks at school or distributing food parcels to children as young as 5. Teachers have spoken of children filling their pockets with food on Fridays, knowing it might be the last hot food they see until after the weekend. Children are found to be pale and exhausted by mid-morning, having not managed to eat enough to be able to learn and play and thrive. A new survey by the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) describes schools as an ‘unofficial fourth emergency service’, stepping in where our government has failed the most vulnerable children.

We know that austerity and nearly a decade of Conservative cruelty has torn our country apart. An estimated 2.1 million families are worse off under Universal Credit, as inequality between the richest 1% and everyone else continues to rise. Government cuts have left gaping holes in our public services, depriving our society’s poorest of the support they desperately need. And at the hands of a failing government, 3 million children are now at risk of hunger, especially during the holidays when schools are no longer able to step in.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Community initiatives across the UK are stepping up to pick up the pieces left by food poverty, ensuring that children have the healthy, nutritious food they need to grow and thrive:

  • In South Wales, Merthyr Valleys Homes, a community housing collective, has set up a holiday hamper scheme, providing food to families struggling to feed their children in the absence of term-time free school meals.
  • In Plymouth, nearly 70 local schools own the co-operative CATERed, ensuring that the community’s children receive fresh, nourishing food at school.
  • And across the UK, charities like FoodCycle are cooking for their communities, making sure that everyone who needs a hot meal can get one.

While these projects are doing vital work, one child going hungry tonight should be one too many. We are the world’s sixth richest country. Our schools should be filled with learning, fun and laughter, not tired, hungry children and teachers doing their best to limit the damage. We need to do better than this.