WILTSHIRE children are arriving at school without having dinner or breakfast as the cost of living crisis continues to hit families hard.

That is the claim from Dr Nick Capstick, CEO of The White Horse Federation and headteacher at Drove Primary School, who is seeing first hand the consequences of children going hungry in his classrooms.

The federation manages a number of schools in the county, including Devizes, Melksham Oak, Bowerhill and Forest & Sandridge.

Along with teachers and unions from the country, Dr Capstick has now written a letter - seen by the BBC - to the government and the Department of Education calling for more to be done to feed children from the poorest families.

They believe the existing measures, where currently only children in state schools up to Year 2 get free school meals, are inadequate and that all children in families who receive Universal Credit should get free school meals no matter what.

Appearing on BBC Breakfast, Dr Capstick said: “This is an increasingly difficult situation we find ourselves in, more and more children are coming having not had a good meal the night before, and not having breakfast sometimes.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald:

“This impacts on the way they perform in school, also their wellbeing and their happiness so it really is a major problem in schools and growing.”

“We’re seeing poor concentration, we’re seeing irritable children, we’re seeing young people who really are quite lethargic and not interested in their learning, and that’s what schools are all about.”

Around one in five pupils in England – 1.7million children – receive school meals but the need for more schoolchildren to get them is expected to rise as more and more families struggle under the current cost of living crisis.

The prices of food, energy, petrol, and other goods have surged in recent months in the UK leading to inflation – the rate at which prices rise – falling at a 40-year-high.

Dr Capstick explained that it’s for this reason that the government is being asked to do more, as currently the free school meal system only helps a small number of people and he and others feel that no children should go hungry.

He said: “What we’d like to see is co-operation with the government to enable all primary aged children to have free school meals no matter what their income source. At the moment it’s only if your income is below £7,400 that you actually get free school meals and that is a ridiculously low figure.”

When confronted with arguments about how much it would cost the government to do this, Dr Capstick rebutted with the fact that savings would be made elsewhere as a result.

He replied: “You’re absolutely right, but it’ll save a lot of money with childhood obesity, poor dentition and going to the dentist, with the number of days those children can attend school because of poor health and their parents and the productivity of the parents not being able to attend their workplaces because their children are poorly.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald:

“I don’t know if can be cost-neutral, but certainly it will go a long way. And this is about looking at not only this generation but future generations of people that will be employed with a good work ethic, but more importantly good GCSE’s, good A-levels, and good health.”

Other signatories to the letter include leaders of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Education Union (NEU), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the teacher’s union, NASUWT.

In a statement provided to the BBC, the Department of Education said: “We recognise the problem millions of households are in and in addition to the £22billion announced previously to help with the cost of living, the government announced last week an extra £15billion in further support particularly targeting those with the greatest need.