NUT survey on holiday hunger

NUT Conference 2017

17 April 2017

NUT survey on holiday hunger

The NUT conducted a survey of its members working in primary schools in March 2017 to seek their experiences of the extent of holiday hunger among their pupils and how this was impacting on children’s education, health and wellbeing. Over 600 primary members responded to the survey.

There were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15, an increase of 200,000 on the previous year.  This means 30% of children, or nine pupils in every classroom of 30 pupils, are officially poor. Most shockingly, work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty. According to the Children’s Society, 67% of the four million children in poverty have at least one parent in work, up from 66% last year.

While many children from poor families are eligible for free school meals during school term times, the NUT has heard anecdotal evidence from its members of a growing problem of hunger among children during the holidays. 

Key findings:

  • Over half (51%) of respondents said that pupils at their school were affected by holiday hunger. Almost two-fifths (39%) of these said it was affecting more than a quarter of pupils in their school, with 12% saying half or more of their pupils experienced holiday hunger.
  • Holiday hunger is a growing problem. 80% of survey respondents who said that pupils in their school were affected by holiday hunger reported that the numbers affected had increased over the last two years.
  • 78% of respondents who had witnessed holiday hunger among their pupils said that children were turning up to school showing signs of hunger; and shockingly, more than a third (37%) said that pupils were returning to school with signs of malnourishment.
  • Almost three quarters (73%) said that their pupils’ education was being negatively affected as a consequence of holiday hunger.
  • 69% said that pupils’ social wellbeing was negatively affected by holiday hunger; and 57% said that their physical health was impacted.
  • 15% of respondents said they were aware of initiatives run locally (e.g. by the local authority, by charitable or voluntary organisations or by faith groups) to tackle hunger during the school holidays. These were considered either effective or highly effective by 69% of those who had knowledge of them.


Responding to the findings, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“These are heart-breaking findings which lay bare the terrible impact of poverty on the lives and educational experiences of many children. This situation should not be tolerated at all, let alone be allowed to persist in the sixth richest economy in the world.

“As this survey demonstrates, teachers are acutely aware of the distressing effects of poverty on the children they teach. When children come to school hungry or malnourished, this has a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing and it also impairs their ability to learn by reducing their ability to concentrate.

“Teachers are working hard to achieve the best outcomes for their pupils but the challenges they face as a result of poverty are increasing, not diminishing, under this Government.

“It is deeply concerning that instead of tackling poverty, the Government seems intent on enacting policies which will further increase it, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicting that ‘if planned benefit cuts go ahead and earnings grow as the OBR forecasts, inequality will start to rise.’  The IFS also predicts that ‘low-income households with children will fare worse than other households.’”

“The Government needs to take urgent action and adopt a serious poverty reduction strategy, including the implementation of universal free school meals for all primary children and measures to tackle holiday hunger.”

The survey was sent to primary NUT members. There were 619 responses received between 3-12 March 2017.

Department for Work and Pensions, Households Below Average Income: An analysis of the UK income distribution: 1994/95-2015/16, Financial year 2015/16 , DfES (16 March 2017). Available at:

The Children’s Society, Four million children affected by poverty, (15 March 2017). Available at:

Andrew Hood and Tom Waters, Historically weak growth in living standards set to continue; low-income households with children to fare worst, IFS Press Release (2 March 2017).  Available at: Historically weak growth in living standards set to continue; low-income households with children to fare worst


Appendix 1:  Comments from teachers who completed the survey

“Child hunger is terrible but what makes it even worse is when we claim to be such a rich country. Families should not have to be starving and in some cases it is working families who really suffer. What sort of country are we living in where people work and cannot afford to eat?”

“It's heart-breaking to hear children not wanting holidays because they don't get to eat enough or to go out but mainly for the food reason. see particular children waiting for second servings or piling their plate with the unlimited amount of salad that is available.”

“I believe our local Sure Start children's centre used to remain open during school holidays to support families until it was closed down last year."

“A large number of pupils are consistently hungry, not just in the holidays. Weekends are a particularly worrying time for pupils and a large number of pupils have just one main meal a day (school lunch).”

“An increasing number of children arrive at school hungry. The only full meal they get is a free school dinner. Grants should fund those disadvantaged families during the holiday period as well as at school too.”

“Child hunger is a big problem but being ignored by the Government, who need to act rather than leaving it to volunteers and people who want to make a difference.”

“Not only is school providing more and more food, clothes, books, shoes, basics for children, but often teachers are paying for essentials out of their own pocket.”

“During term time snacks are made available throughout the morning to give children something to eat. Some children are ravenous at the start of the day.”

“Hunger in school-children has become more apparent over my seven years of teaching, in particular children arriving at school having had no breakfast.”

“Universal free school meals should be extended to cover whole primary age range. It is excellent for catching those families the government calls ‘JAM’ or redirect money to holiday vouchers/ payments for those on FSM.”

“I am currently in a small school in an affluent village. However, there are pockets of deprivation among our children. I hope a summer meal scheme is not only offered to deprived 'areas' rather than individuals, as our children in need would not be included. Maybe they would have access to a different school in the closest large area of deprivation? I am worried that individual people, who may be in great need, will be overlooked as their school has a majority of affluent parents and classed as not suitable for the scheme.”

“It is distressing that in the year 2017 poverty, lack of food and heating of homes is still a problem.”

“I think it's shocking that we should be in this state in the 21st century.”

“Children should not have to come to school hungry in an advanced country it is wrong!”

“I think this is a really important problem to tackle but it's not just during the holidays; term time hunger before and after school is a huge problem too. Both affect schooling but please be careful about placing any extra responsibility for this on already overworked, under resourced schools.”

“I consider this matter of huge importance as an increasing number of families are reliant on food banks.”

More needs to be done for the working poor.”

“More and more families have told me they rely on food banks to survive (many of these are working families).”

“In addition to holiday hunger I have families who cannot cook a meal because their oven is broken and they cannot afford to get it repaired. I have families with disabled children who cannot easily leave the house and shop for affordable healthy food because it is too difficult and they have no help.”

“Thank you for conducting this survey - this is an important issue.”

“I am glad there is consideration being given to this issue. As a regular donor to the NSPCC, the issue of child poverty is one that needs addressing.”

“Thanks for fighting this cause.”

“Very worthy survey. I hope the Government takes this matter seriously and discusses it seriously.”


Appendix 2 : Survey Tables

Are any pupils at your school affected by holiday hunger?

What percentage of pupils in your school would you estimate are affected by holiday hunger?

Have you noticed a change in the number of pupils suffering the effects of holiday hunger over the last two years?

What are the impacts of holiday hunger on your pupils? (Respondents were able to select as many answers as they felt applied)

Are you aware of any local initiatives (e.g. by the local authority, charitable/ voluntary organisations or faith groups) to tackle hunger during the school holidays?

In your view, how effective are these local initiatives in tackling holiday hunger?