North East teacher speaks of poor kids returning to school after holidays 'visibly thinner'

Councillor and teacher Ben Riley tells Newcastle City Council 'this is the reality of child poverty'

Ben Riley
Ben Riley

A North East teacher says some of his pupils return after holidays “visibly thinner” because of a lack of food.

Ben Riley made his emotive comments during his maiden speech as a Blakelaw councillor for Newcastle City Council as a cross-party motion about the depth of child poverty in the city was discussed.

Coun Riley said: “As a teacher I am looking forward to my summer holidays. But some of my students cry when the holiday approaches because they don’t know if they are going to have enough food because of child poverty.

“It is no exaggeration for me to say after the recent holidays some of the students came back looking visibly thinner.

“That was after the Easter holiday which lasted two weeks. Who knows what they’ll look like after the summer holidays which last six weeks. This is the reality of child poverty in this region.”

Coun Riley teachers at The Meadows, a mixed secondary special school in County Durham for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Speaking after the meeting he said most have access to free school meals during term time.

“Many are in sheltered accommodation or foster care. They are in a vulnerable situation where every day, during the holidays, it’s a choice between food and clothes, food and electricity, very stark choices.

“One of the reasons I became a councillor is to help people like this and raise the issue of child poverty.”

The council heard how 3.5m children in the UK - 27% of the total - are living in poverty and the figure was rising. In Newcastle the figure is 29%.

The motion detailed council initiatives to alleviate some poverty, including adopting the Living Wage, working with schools to maintain a bursary for pupils when the government abolished the National Education Maintenance Allowance, and ensuring schools are effectively using the Pupil Premium funding from the government to support disadvantaged children.

Others included working promoting early intervention and partnership working, especially through the Sure Start Children’s Centres and crisis support to help parents feed their children over the school holidays.

The council resolved to write to the Government to share its concerns on child poverty.

Labour councillor Joyce McCarty added: “We’re delighted we can make a cross party agreement.”

Lib Dem coun Nick Cott, who seconded the motion, said: “The Government cannot afford to take its eye off the ball and we need to work together.”

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