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

Rosie Lewis

School support staff across Wales 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 ​ survey of more than 800 school workers reveals 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 (37%) had helped with food or packed lunches, 35% had helped with uniform costs, and 25% with books and stationery.

However, almost all the school employees (98%) surveyed say they fear their pay isn’t enough to cover their own spiralling bills and other household costs.

One in six workers (17%) have used food banks in the past year, and more than two-fifths (46%) 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 (90%) support staff said they worried they wouldn’t have enough money to pay their energy bills, with a similar percentage (91%) worried about food costs. 

To try and save cash, half of those who responded (49%) are limiting the use of their oven, while over two-thirds (71%) 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.

A third (33%) had taken a second or third job and more than half (54%) 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 (57%) 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 Cymru/Wales schools lead Rosie Lewis (pictured above) said: “Even though school staff in Wales 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.”