By Claire West

At the start of the new school year, UNISON the UK’s largest union, is warning that more children are missing school as a direct result of the Government’s austerity measures. A survey of education welfare (truancy) officers (EWOs) reveals families struggling to pay bills, to afford school uniforms or dinner money and suffering from other poverty-related issues.

A shrinking pool of specialist staff to help children stay in school means that the numbers truanting will continue to rise. Estimates suggest there are only about 2,000 EWOs responsible for the 8.2m pupils in the UK aged between 5 — 16 years old — 1:4,100 pupils.

Government spending cuts also mean that less funds are spent on early intervention and prevention, with many authorities withdrawing support and resorting to fines. This, says the union, is counter productive in cases where the family can't afford to pay and desperately need help and support to keep their kids in school. Half (50%) of EWOs report that levels of truancy have increased over the past year. Top reasons are housing problems; family income suffering due to welfare and benefit changes; lack of money for school uniforms or dinner money, housing problems, family breakdown, drug and alcohol problems and bullying.

UNISON believes that this is storing up huge problems, not just for individual children, but for society as a whole.

Helga Pile, UNISON National Officer for Education Welfare Officers, said:

“Our children are our most precious resource. They are our future and we are letting them down badly if we allow so many to slip out of the education system. These kids should be in school, not out roaming the streets where they can become the targets of drug-rings, paedophiles or getting involved in petty crime.

“They come from the most vulnerable families and they need a helping hand, not punishment, so that they get a fair crack at life. The Government needs to accept its duty to care for all our children and that means ensuring resources are there when they are needed.”