'Scandalous': Schools chief says they are providing children 'three meals a day', including 'packed dinner'

28 February 2024, 08:30 | Updated: 28 February 2024, 11:33

Meals being prepared for children at a Birmingham primary school
Meals being prepared for children at a Birmingham primary school. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

Philanthropist Lord Harris of Peckham, the sponsor of the Harris Federation of primary and secondary schools, has criticised the state of poverty in Britain, telling LBC that some schools are providing three meals a day for some pupils – including a ‘packed dinner’.

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The Harris Federation operates 54 schools in and around London educating over 40,000 pupils, - meaning that 1 in 40 children in London now attend a Harris school - ut Lord Harris has expressed concern for children amongst the cost-of-living crisis and called for education to “come out of politics”.

He told LBC about the dire situation at one of his schools in Peckham. “We have 120 people who don’t live in a proper home”, Lord Harris said, adding there are cases of “4 or 5 people living in one bedroom, with cockroaches running all over the floor”.

The founder of Carpetright claimed that his schools trust were providing some pupils with “three meals a day”. He explained that many families “have no money”, saying “we have to give them breakfast, we give them lunch, and we send them home with food”.

This phenomenon also appears to be UK-wide. Steve Chalke, who runs the Oasis Academy Trust of over 50 schools, told LBC that some of his schools were having to provide families "with beds, mattresses, pillows, washing machines & fridges", adding "All of this falls within the remit of our schools now".

The General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders admitted that this was “a reality” and “not a sustainable situation” saying that “schools are being forced to offer more and more welfare support such as this”.

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Geoff Barton told LBC “It’s nothing short of scandalous that scenes such as those described by Lord Harris exist in one of the richest countries in the world. 

Daniel Kebede, the General Secretary of the National Education Union told LBC that "many schools and colleges see daily the impact that poverty has on the learning, health and wellbeing of their pupils. It is heartbreaking."

Lord Harris of Peckham
Lord Harris of Peckham. Picture: Parliament

The Union leader added "no child should have to live like this, no child should have to arrive at school too hungry to learn", adding that the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had the opportunity to "make a real difference in the Spring Budget".

Those comments were echoed by Darren Northcott, a National Officer at the NASUWT teaching union, who said "very sadly, this is a story you see repeated across the country.

Schools aren't funded to provide three meals a day to pupils, but they are finding that they have to because pupils aren't getting access to meals outside of schools".

Mr Northcott added that so-called 'packed dinners' are a reality "up and down the country" and that school leaders are explaining that they are "having to do this in order to make sure that children are getting three basic meals a day".

Asked about what he would like to see at the upcoming budget Lord Harris said he wanted to see “every child to have a good education”, and that he would prefer to see the Chancellor give “more money given to poor people”.

The Tory grandee Lord Harris also criticised the current state of the country saying “we are a proper country, we should look after these people, nothing like that should happen”.

“We need to help the poor and make sure they have enough money to live on, as well as people with pensions who have worked for this country and now have no money”.

The condemnation will come as a blow to the Conservative Party. The peer has been a donor since Margaret Thatcher was the leader in the 1980s and previously sat on the Conservative Party Board of Treasurers as Deputy Chairman.

In response a Government spokesperson said: “We understand the pressures many households are under, which is why we have expanded our support through doubling the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010 from just one sixth to one third.

“We have also put generous protections in place to ensure that children who need it keep their free school meal entitlement even if their household circumstances change.”

“We are also supporting the most vulnerable with record cost of living support worth around £3,700 per household and have halved inflation to help everyone’s money go further, while our Household Support Fund is also helping people with the cost of essentials.”