A dinner lady who works at a school in the north west of England said she was being forced to deny school lunches to around 10 to 15 children a day who do not have the money for food.
The spiraling rate of inflation, burgeoning energy bills and food costs have left parents in dire financial straits, leaving many children to go hungry, she explains.
The woman, who has not been named, was speaking at Tuesday (30 August) night’s Enough is Enough rally at Manchester cathedral when she broke down in tears describing the child poverty at her Lancashire school.
“Just before the summer holidays, when the cost of living crisis really started kicking off, I just noticed I was spending as much time taking food away from children as doing serving it,” she told. PoliticsJoe.
“To be honest, its not what I took the job for. I never dreamed I would be telling children ‘you can’t have that, you’ve no money in your account’.”
She told the outlet that when she first started her role at the school – which has not been identified – she would have to turn around one child a month away. “Parents might forget to put money on at the beginning of the month, and you get that,” she added.
Now, though, the dinner lady said she was turning away some 10-15 children without money “every single day.”
“Its breaking my heart,” she said, breaking down in tears. “They’re in a queue full of all their peers and other schoolchildren, and it’s humiliating for them. So humiliating.”
“They just look at you like ‘well, what am I going to eat’,” to which she said she must respond: “I can’t give you anything, I’m sorry.”
With the summer holidays drawing to a close, the dinner lady said she was “dreading” returning to work.”
“It’s getting to the point where I don’t think I can be doing this job anymore,” she added. “I didn’t take the job on to starve children.”
“Something has to give and I don’t think it should be children’s spirits.”
Among a series of calls, the Enough is Enough campaigners are calling on the government to enshrine in law the Right to Food, and “put this into practice by introducing universal free school meals, community kitchens, and reinstating the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift.”
The dinner lady also touched on the matter of free school meals, the criteria of which she said needed to be changed to meet the financial challenges posed by the cost of living crisis.
At present, parents and guardians can apply for their children to be supplied with free school meals if they meet the criteria listed on the Department for Education (DfE) website.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We know many families are facing rising costs, which is why work continues across government to address cost pressures. We are providing over 1.9 million children with free school meals, and over 2,000 schools are also signed up to the National School Breakfast Programme, which is improving children’s wellbeing, concentration and readiness to learn.
“We are also providing over £37 billion, targeted to help households with the greatest need, and welfare support through the Household Support Fund, which is helping vulnerable families with essentials such as food and utility bills.”