Today, despite the Government's best efforts, going on for four million children in the UK – no fewer than three out of every 10 – are living in poverty
Read that again
In 1979, it was one in 10. It is, as I said in a speech on Wednesday night, almost Dickensian in its extent.
I have taught in Yorkshire since 1975, in an area like many others in the country.
These are places where more than half the children receive free school meals, where one in 10 of pupils are on the at-risk register, and a similar proportion have some form of special need.
And despite the stereotyping about welfare scroungers, approximately 60 per cent of poor children live in households where someone works.
It might seem shocking that a family member can go out to work, or have two or even three part-time jobs, and that family can still be living below the poverty line.
But what is even more depressing is the way that shared poverty leads to shared attitudes – a poverty of aspiration.
Once, I sent a girl home with her first book, to share with her mother.
She was bursting with pride, but the mother told me: "It's not my job to listen to her read – it's yours."
A 14-year-old was a top achiever until she realised it wasn't the done thing for someone from her community, so she started to play truant.
Others meet the attitude: "Why should you stay on at school? I didn't, and I manage."
This weight of deprivation can be next to impossible to counteract.
Healthy children enter school not toilet-trained, unable to dress themselves, only knowing how to eat with a spoon or with their fingers, never having sat around a table to enjoy a home-cooked family meal.
I have been told about a seven-year-old who came to school with a massive burn on her arm: she had been ironing her siblings' clothes to dry them so they could wear them to school.
It is not uncommon for children to be so hungry they are unable to concentrate in class.
A friend taught a six-year-old who had to get up and feed his baby brother in the night.
He didn't have a coat for the winter, and seldom got any breakfast, so my friend fed him.
Two brothers had three days off school because they didn't have any shoes to wear.
Another pupil watched from the classroom window as his house door was kicked in and his dad led out in handcuffs.
It was during SATs week: unsurprisingly, he didn't perform as well as he should have.
In this country, poverty is related to poor educational achievement more strongly than virtually anywhere else.
A report this month from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the UK was worse than average for child well being.
We have the highest rates of under-age drinking, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and a high proportion of young people not in education, employment or training.
We might spend huge sums on children's welfare and education, but the OECD says that this is not reflected in academic results.
Moreover, social mobility has stalled, with children finding it hard to escape a disadvantaged background and earn more than their parents.
I have taught so many children who, aged six or seven, told me they wanted to be a teacher, a vet or a doctor.
They had the ability, but not many succeeded: those that did had to work much harder than their middle-class peers.
Low expectations and this poverty of aspiration are stopping many children from poorer communities achieving their full potential.
But what really makes me mad is the idea that teachers are complacent or resigned about this. I, and thousands of others, spend our professional lives trying to help pupils overcome these difficulties.
As a teacher there is nothing better than seeing your kids succeed: to see that inner light come on when a child in reception reads his first book; or a secondary pupil receives her desired A-level results.
The best way to improve achievement for all children is to get rid of poverty of all kinds – financial, aspirational and emotional.
Lesley Ward is president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers