Cash-strapped school support staff are paying for pupils’ essentials

Dedicated staff using food banks and cutting back on heating to cope in cost-of-living crisis

Cash-strapped school support staff are paying for pupils’ essentials, says UNISON 

School support staff are using their own money to help pay for pupils’ food and clothing, even though many are struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis themselves, says UNISON today (Friday).

A ​UK-wide survey of more than 13,000 school workers reveals that staff – including teaching assistants, caterers and cleaners – are buying food, clothes and stationery for their hard-up pupils.

The findings have been released to coincide with Stars in our Schools, UNISON’s annual celebration of school support staff, which is being marked in schools across the UK today.

The report paints a picture of these workers going above and beyond to assist pupils from deprived backgrounds, despite having their own financial worries.  Over a third (36%) had helped with food or packed lunches, 34% with uniform and one in five (22%) with books and stationery.

However, almost all the school employees (96%) surveyed say they fear their pay isn’t enough to cover their own spiralling bills and other household costs.

One in seven workers (14%) have used food banks in the past year, and more than two-fifths (45%) say they’ve had to borrow money to stay afloat financially.

Top of their concerns is being able to pay for heating and eating. Nine in 10 (89%) support staff said they were anxious they wouldn’t have enough money to pay their energy bills, with a similar percentage (90%) worried about food costs.

To try and save cash, one in five (20%) said they were only heating one room, while almost two-thirds (65%) were simply not using their heating at all.

The survey found that financial pressures are forcing lots of employees to take on extra work, with many considering quitting education for better-paid jobs elsewhere.

More than a quarter (26%) had taken a second or third job and more than two-fifths (46%) are looking for more lucrative roles. Those wanting to get out of the school sector said they are eyeing up jobs in administration, hospitality and retail.

UNISON is warning that an exodus of support staff would put even more pressure on the colleagues left behind. The survey found that over half (52%) of staff already do unpaid overtime every week.

The report lays bare the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on pupils and their families, says UNISON. As well as more children showing signs of neglect and turning up to school hungry, staff also reported an increase in the number of parents needing financial and emotional support.

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Even though school staff are not well-off themselves, they’re still doing what they can for their pupils. Their generosity and dedication are to be applauded, but it is truly shocking that employees struggling to make ends meet are having to bail out less fortunate families.

“This can’t continue. The report identifies thousands of staff who are being attracted to jobs in retail and hospitality, with less responsibility and better pay.

“But support staff are vital to the smooth running of schools and the experiences of pupils. Their pay should better reflect the invaluable support they provide.”

Note to editors:
– The report is available here.
– Stars in Our Schools is UNISON’s annual celebration of school support staff. They are the caterers, administrative staff, finance officers, teaching assistants and cleaners who help children learn, keep them safe and make sure schools run smoothly. Schools across the UK are hosting a range of activities today including coffee mornings and special assemblies to say thank you to their support
– UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea will be joining staff and pupils at Newark Orchard School in Nottinghamshire for their presentation assembly at 2pm. She will meet support staff including local Stars in our Schools nominees.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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