School support staff paying for pupils’ food, says union

School support staff are using their own money to help pupils and their families cope with the cost-of-living crisis, UNISON has found in a survey of more than 6,000 school workers.

The survey reveals that staff, including teaching assistants, catering and cleaning workers, librarians and sports coaches, are buying food for hungry pupils, and contributing towards the cost of uniforms, shoes and stationery.

Ninety-eight per cent said they are concerned their pay isn’t enough to cover the cost of living. But despite these financial pressures, more than a fifth (23%) are using their own money to buy books, pencils and pens for pupils, and three in ten (30%) are helping pupils with the cost of uniforms, says UNISON.  

One in eight workers (13%) have used food banks in the past year, with many saying they may need to turn to them again or are relying on their families to provide meals.

The survey also found intolerable financial pressures are forcing many employees to consider leaving the education sector for better-paid jobs elsewhere.

More than a quarter (27%) had already taken second or third jobs to make ends meet and nearly half (49%) are actively looking for other jobs.

The exodus of support staff is heaping even more pressure on the colleagues they leave behind who find themselves stretched even more thinly, UNISON adds. 

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Schools are struggling to hold on to their support staff. Better wages are available elsewhere and that’s causing a recruitment crisis.

“These staff are crucial to the smooth running of schools and to the learning experiences of pupils in the classroom. Their pay should better reflect the invaluable support they provide. 

“Even though education workers are experiencing tough times themselves, they’re still helping less fortunate pupils and their families. That speaks volumes about their generosity and dedication, but it should never have come to this. The government should be hanging its head in shame.”

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