Well over four million UK children live in poverty. Last week’s universal credit cut could push 200,000 more kids into hardship, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said.
De Souza referenced both her experience as school staff and her own childhood when warning against warped perceptions of children living below the breadline.
“A middle class child with a mother who has mental health issues might be perceived as a young carer, whereas if that’s a child from a poor background, they’re more likely to be perceived as ‘child-in-need-with-problem’,” she said.
The commissioner also recommended an auto-enrolment system for free school meals (FSM) to stop qualifying children from falling through the gaps.
Children whose families have no recourse to public funds – meaning they cannot claim state support because of their immigration status – were not entitled to FSMs before the pandemic. But last year the government temporarily changed the rules to allow those vulnerable kids to get free lunches.
This should be made permanent, De Souza said.
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“I want those children identified at the beginning of their school careers,” she added. “We can remove stigma and get them fed too.”
Lord Filkin challenged the commissioner on which of her recommendations would deliver “the best cost-benefit” because it would be too expensive to introduce all of her ideas.
De Souza said she had considered her recommendations and their “political context” carefully, but agreed with senior adviser Martin Lennon that “the return on breakfast clubs is very well proven”.
It is also time for a wider review of the cost of living, according to the commissioner, the same week energy bills, food costs and other essentials soared in price.
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Researchers observed “financial strain on a much wider group of children than expected” in the Children’s Commissioner’s national survey earlier this year, she said.
“It’s very touching, actually. We heard from children and found that many – even from the most disadvantaged areas – often didn’t talk about their own situation,” she added.
“Instead, they talked about the impact poverty has on other children and their parents. This generation is very caring.”