National Education Union chief Kevin Courtney described the grim realities of child poverty laid bare during the pandemic at a Labour conference event organised with the Mirror
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Teachers “can’t unsee” the levels of deprivation they glimpsed in children’s homes during the pandemic, a union boss has said.
Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint General Secretary, said Covid-19 had shone a grim light on child poverty in the UK.
He said teachers had seen shocking levels of poverty during Zoom classes during the national lockdowns – with some pupils struggling to learn as they lacked basic supplies.
Speaking at a joint NEU/Mirror event at Labour’s annual conference, Mr Courtney said it was “absolutely inexcusable” that children live in such poverty that they lacked pens and paper.
“Covid has thrown a new light on poverty. It didn’t create it though,” he said.
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He described children forced into cramped conditions, trying to learn without proper IT equipment or working in a room with lots of family members.
“Staff have looked inside children’s homes through a Zoo link, through a Teams link… having seen that you can’t unsee it.”
The Mirror has teamed up with the NEU to stamp out child poverty and ensure that no child is left behind.
Vital school supplies were sent out to schools through our joint Help a Child to Learn campaign, kick-started by a major £1million donation from the NEU.
Mr Courtney told delegates how 4 out of 10 members had dipped into their own pockets to buy supplies, school uniforms or even food for struggling children.
Shadow Child Poverty Secretary Wes Streeting spoke movingly about how his nursery teachers bought him a Victoria sponge cake so he would have something on his birthday as his mum couldn’t afford it.
“I will remember that to this very day and I will be grateful to those staff for the rest of my life,” he said.
“I want to say to all the staff who have put their hands in their pockets, please do not think children will not remember that.”
Mr Streeting, who grew up on a council estate in East London, was reliant on free school meals growing up.
And he recalled his own mum going without so her family had enough to eat.
But he said he was afraid things were “worse than when I was growing up in the 1980s”.
“If they did, there is no way they would be taking £20 a week out of the pockets of some of the poorest working families in our country.
“There is no way they would be plunging 200,000 children into poverty.”
Cllr Louise Atkinson, a primary school teacher and local councillor in Carlisle, said the impact of deprivation “lasts a lifetime”.
Growing up in the 1980s, her family were often homeless and reliant on free school meals.
She was bullied for not having the right uniform and her mum would go without food to ensure the children had food on the table.
Some people are struggling to understand how important that £20 uplift is because it’s a bottle of Merlot to some people,” she told delegates.
“When you haven’t lived like that, that £20 goes a really long way when that’s all you’ve got.”
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, deputy leader of LGA Labour, said the Government needed to step in urgently to end child poverty.
She told the event: “As one of the richest countries in the world, we should be saying from a powerful platform, ‘This is what we want for our children, this is what we want for our families… We see ourselves as sophisticated and world-leading. Well, let’s lead and end child poverty.”