Children still living in "Dickensian" poverty

LONDON (Reuters) - Some children are living in such poverty that their lives mirror the suffering of those in the “times of Dickens,” a teachers’ union leader says.

Boys compete during the Vale of Belvoir annual conker championships in Long Clawson, October 21, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Lesley Ward, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said some children come from communities with such deprivation that it is incredibly hard for schools to help rectify.

“There are perfectly healthy children who enter school not yet toilet-trained,” Ward told a reception in London.

“Children who cannot dress themselves, children who only know how to eat with a spoon, and have never sat around a table to enjoy a home-cooked family meal. Children who don’t know who will be at home when they get home -- if anyone.

Ward said she knew of one pupil who watched from a classroom window as his father was in handcuffs after his house’s front door was kicked down.

“The reality is that six in 10 poor children live in families where someone works. That’s shocking isn’t it -- you go out to work, perhaps two or even three part-time jobs, and you’re still living below the poverty line,” she said.

“Life mirroring the times of Dickens.”

She said deprivation caused the problem of “poverty of aspiration,” with parents seeing little value in education, but she rejected the notion that teachers just accepted this.

“What really makes me bloody mad is the idea that teachers are complacent or resigned about this,” she said.

“As a teacher, there is nothing better than seeing your kids succeed.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison