19/06/2018 08:14 BST | Updated 19/06/2018 08:14 BST

How To Tackle The Growing Number Of Children Turning Up To School Unwashed And In Dirty Clothes

No child’s life chances should be compromised because of the stigma of hygiene poverty

Dominic Lipinski - PA Images via Getty Images

My team at In Kind Direct works with thousands of charities tackling the UK’s toughest social issues. Last year we released a report about the increasing number of Britons living in hygiene poverty. Food will always be a priority for parents, along with paying bills needed to keep a roof over their families’ heads. But for thousands of families across the UK this leaves very little in their purses for other essential necessities such as washing up liquid, shower gel and personal items. Without access to these items which most of us take for granted, this can have a major impact on children’s self-esteem and self-confidence resulting in social exclusion. 

Digging deeper into the issue, today we have released a new report after finding that teachers are increasingly being relied upon to step in to provide pupils with everyday essential products because parents simply can’t afford to make ends meet. Two thirds of primary school teachers said they see children turning up in dirty clothes. Many have dug into their own pockets to provide children with soap, laundry products, head lice products, toothbrushes and toothpaste because they know parents can’t afford them. 78% of teachers have referred families to local charities after recognising the scale of the issue.

Nicola Finney who is Head Teacher of St Paul’s C of E Primary School in Stoke on Trent, which receives products from In Kind Direct, gave my team real insight. She said this was a huge issue in her school, and after years of spending hundreds of pounds of her own money helping families, she allocates money from her very tight budget to make sure the school can buy personal hygiene and washing items because she knows increasing numbers of families simply can’t afford to buy them. She said:

“We have seen significantly more children coming into school with washing and hygiene issues over the last few years. It used to be just a couple of children across the school, but now there are two or three in every classroom dealing with these issues.”

I’m a mother of two girls who are now adults, but I can’t even imagine the stress these parents must feel at not being able to afford basic hygiene essentials to protect their children from ridicule, rejection and bullying because of poor basic hygiene. In speaking to Dr Richard Woolfson, child psychologist, about how this could affect children’s social interactions and development, he said:

“Hygiene poverty has such a devastatingly negative effect on a child’s psychological development, not just on their health but also on their confidence, self-esteem, social relationships and class work. No child wants to be taunted because they are dirty, or because their clothes are filthy. They’ll start to lose interest in their education, their friendships will suffer, and they’ll be reluctant to attend school.”

No child’s education and future life chances should be compromised because of the stigma they face, simply because their families can’t afford the hygiene products to keep themselves clean. At In Kind Direct, despite having worked with more than 9,000 charities so far and helping more than two million people every year, we know there is still so much more to be done. From our research with PwC last year, we know there is £2 billion pounds of unwanted, surplus consumer goods produced in the UK each year. This demonstrates the huge opportunity for more companies to help their communities by donating their products to In Kind Direct. In Kind Direct is the only organisation which has taken on the administrative and logistical complexity of distributing donated products to charities serving people in need throughout the UK.

We know most companies want to do their bit to be good neighbours and help communities thrive. By donating the products they make or sell, it can make a marked difference to so many people’s lives. Sometimes the gift of a hygiene pack can be what’s necessary to tide people over through difficult times and to get back on their feet. All it takes is that one act of generosity from a company which can make the difference.

Today I am calling on more manufacturers and retailers to build product giving into their operations. In Kind Direct has proven this has huge potential to benefit communities, businesses and the environment – helping to tackle ‘hygiene poverty’ at the grassroots through our growing network of charity partners.

Robin Boles is CEO of In Kind Direct