29 Oct 2014

Millions of families across the UK are struggling with the cost of school with thousands of children being bullied and embarrassed as a result, new child-led research released today reveals.

Nearly two-thirds of children living in the country’s poorest families say they are embarrassed as a result of not being able to afford key aspects of school. More than 25% said this has led them to being bullied.

More than three million — two thirds of all families across the UK — say they are struggling with the cost of school. More than half of the poorest families say they have had to borrow money to pay for essential school items. 

The Children’s Commission on Poverty’s report, ‘At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life’, which was supported by The Children’s Society, found that state education is far from free. Families on average are spending £800 each year per child on school costs — £6.5 billion across the UK.

The panel of 16 children aged 10 to 19, from across England, found that the cost of school basics like uniforms, meals, text books and access to computers is not only affecting family finances, but also undermining the poorest children’s opportunities and wellbeing.

Despite government guidance that the cost of school uniforms should be kept down, the Children’s Commission on Poverty found that families are spending £600 million a year on them. 

Children are also struggling with the cost of the increased requirement to use computers. A third of children living in the poorest families said they had fallen behind at school because their family couldn’t afford the computer or internet facilities. 

Young commissioners are calling on the Government to make sure that all children living in poverty get a free school meal and that uniforms are made affordable. The Government’s guidance also needs to be strengthened to make sure voluntary school costs really are voluntary.  

Cyrus, a young commissioner, aged 14, said: 'As a young commissioner the thing that has stood out is how poverty isn’t just a physical problem, but has a mental effect on children. Children are being treated differently if they are living in poverty. They are made to stand out. They don’t have computers good enough to download the software they need to do homework. Some have stickers put on their books. 

'If real change is to be made, schools need to be aware of poverty and its effects on children so they can support the child though the most important years of their life.'

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'Children are supposed to be benefiting equally from a free education. Yet the reality is that UK families are paying billions of pounds each year towards the cost of school. Children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education simply because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right. 

'The Government needs to listen to this crucial report by young commissioners and act to make sure no child is stopped from getting an education equal to their peers. It must stop children from being made to suffer because they are living in poverty.'

Launched in October 2013, the Commission is a unique opportunity for children to join forces and examine first-hand the stark realities facing thousands of families living below the poverty line. Supported by The Children’s Society, it is leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK. 

The young commissioners chose to examine the effects of the cost of school on the lives of children in poverty because school pays such a crucial role in a child’s life and affects them emotionally on a daily basis. They aim to make sure that children in poverty are not left out of school life and can enjoy all the same benefits as their peers. 

The Children’s Commission on Poverty is launching ‘At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life’ on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 at an event from 1.00-3.00pm in the House of Commons, the Churchill Room.  The Right Honourable David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools; Young Commissioners; Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society; and event host Sarah Champion MP, will speak.  

Media enquiries

For more information, interviews or to attend the launch, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk  For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editors

•‘At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life’: Full report - Executive summary

•The statistics in the Children’s Commission on Poverty report are from an original survey of 2,000 households in which 2,000 adults and 2,000 children were questioned from across Britain in September 2014, which The Children’s Society commissioned for the purpose of the report. These were responses from children aged 10-17 and their parents. As part of this survey, we asked children how well off their family were. Where we reference ‘poorest families’ in this news release, we refer to the households where children answered ‘not well off at all’. 

•According to the latest official statistics, there are 3.7 million children in poverty. 

•The proportion of children in poverty in the UK has nearly doubled in the last 30 years. Nearly two-thirds are in low-income working families.

•From this September, all infant school children started getting free school meals, meaning 200,000 more children in poverty are getting this key support. It is vital free school meals are extended to the 500,000 school children living in poverty who continue to miss out. 

•The Children’s Society is supporting the first-ever Children’s Commission on Poverty. The commissioners want the Government to draw on children’s actual experience – not just the statistics — when developing measures to tackle child poverty. The Children’s Commission on Poverty is being supported by The Children’s Society and led by a panel of 16 children and teenagers from across England, ranging in age from 10 to 19. They are leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK. It provides a crucial platform for children to speak out about what poverty is really like and reveal, through their own eyes, the day-to-day challenges they face and what needs to be done. 

•By 2020, the year by which the Government committed to end child poverty, an estimated three quarters of a million more children will be living in poverty than today.

•The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life.