An upcoming report has found that children are suffering from food poverty in English schools, with some hiding in the playground because they cannot afford lunch, according to the Guardian.
The report will be published next month by Chefs in Schools, a charity that focuses on healthy eating and trains chefs to work in school kitchens.
The charity said one school in southeast London reported that a child was “pretending to eat out of an empty lunchbox” because they did not want their friends to know they did not have food at home.
Central to this food poverty crisis in schools are two issues: the first is school budgets, which are straining under mounting energy costs, and the second is eligibility for free school meals.
All schoolchildren in England are eligible for free school meals from reception to year two, but after this point only children whose parents earn less than £7,400 a year are eligible.
The Child Poverty Action Group said this means 800,000 children in poverty are ineligible for these free school meals.
Naomi Duncan, the chief executive of Chefs in Schools, said: “We are hearing about kids who are so hungry they are eating rubbers in school.”
“Kids are coming in having not eaten anything since lunch the day before. The government has to do something,” she added.
Duncan called on all children from families on welfare benefits, known as universal credit, to be eligible for free school meals. This position was backed up by teachers’ unions.
She added: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking for our chefs. They are actively going out and finding the kids who are hiding in the playground because they don’t think they can get a meal, and feeding them.”
Paul Gosling, president of the National Association of Headteachers union, said: “The government knows that when kids turn up in the morning hungry and cold, schools will step in and help. But it’s not right that it’s being left to us with no extra support.”
The UK is the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP.