The energy crisis is increasing poverty rates in Belgium, and this is already having an effect on school children and their packed lunches, according to sources across Belgian education.
In a school in Antwerp, the director claimed that around a third of students arrive at school with no food for the day due to rising costs having an impact on their parents’ budget.
"Several students did not eat this morning and not everyone has a lunchbox with them," said Karin Heremans, director of the Royal Athenaeum in Antwerp. After noticing the trend since the start of the new school year, Heremans took it on herself to monitor the situation. She picked random classes from day to day to check on students, as it became clear that embarrassment was preventing children from admitting they had no food.
"Five of the seventeen students in this class do not have a lunchbox with them," she said after visiting one class. "I also asked who ate this morning. Ten of them did not have breakfast. Three of those ten do not have a lunchbox with them and therefore will only eat their first meal tonight."
Children need every meal
However, children desperately need every meal. "Some students just fall asleep because they haven't eaten," said Heremans. "It has an impact on their concentration and therefore also on their results."
Skipping lunch is not a good idea physically, but the empty lunch boxes also have an impact on the psychological well-being of the students. "Children at that age should not care about a basic need, about food, in our society," said Heremans. Students are also ashamed when asked why they have nothing with them for the break.
It is therefore difficult to find out what the exact reason is for each empty lunchbox and intervention is not easy. "We have decided to give lessons on the importance of nutrition and, from the start of October, we will provide soup," says Heremans. In this way they hope to help the students at their school. "But the conclusion can only be that many families today are only concerned with survival."
According to Heremans, a structural solution lies in the policy priorities of the governments. "Children are our future. That is why I advocate a radical solution: free meals, but also free education for everyone."