Plea over free school meals
Tuesday 24th September 2013, 4:41PM BST.
Scottish children should have the same entitlement to free school meals as those in England, according to unions, churches and children’s organisations.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced last week that children in the first three years of schools in England will get a free lunch from September 2014.
The Scottish Government made a similar pledge in 2010 but progress has been “limited” and has even been “scaled back” by some councils, according to 11 organisations who have sent a letter to ministers urging them to match Mr Clegg’s commitment.
Scotland will receive £60 million in Barnett consequentials, which boost the Scottish budget in line with Westminster spending decisions, according to the organisations who have called for the money to be allocated to free school meals in Scotland.
The letter states: “We have all welcomed the Scottish Government’s long standing policy objective of moving toward the provision of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3, the SNP manifesto commitment to ‘look at ways of expanding current provision’ and the progress that has been made in widening entitlement to free school meals.
“Nevertheless it has been a matter of real concern and disappointment that, to date, the roll-out of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3, as announced by the Scottish Government in 2010, has not yet been fully implemented. What limited progress that had been made by local authorities has been scaled back in recent years.
“We therefore believe that the UK Government announcement, and the additional resources that we understand are to be made available, create a huge opportunity for the Scottish Government to now fulfil its ambition of providing a free healthy meal to all children in P1 to P3. We urge you to ensure the Scottish Government acts as soon as possible to confirm that P1 to P3 children in Scottish primary schools will also now receive a healthy school lunch from September 2014.”
The letter is signed by unions Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), plus union umbrella group STUC.
Children’s groups Save the Children, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and One Parent Families in Scotland also signed the letter, as did poverty groups Shelter and Poverty Alliance as well as the Church of Scotland.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “It is vitally important that all pupils across Scotland have access to substantial and nutritionally balanced meals at lunchtimes.”
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Families across the country are under massive pressures as benefit and tax credit cuts bite, wages stagnate and the cost of food and energy soar.
“Ensuring children in the early years of primary school all get a healthy free lunch would play a hugely important role in relieving pressure on family budgets, helping make work pay for parents and boosting children’s health and wellbeing.”
CPAG Scotland head John Dickie said: “Scotland has led the way over the last few years in improving school lunches, piloting and committing to universal school meals in the early years of primary and expanding entitlement.
“This is now the ideal time for ministers to take the next step and deliver long-standing commitments to roll out free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3. Such a move would protect against rising levels of child poverty and food poverty and at the same time ensure all our children are able to get the most out of the school day.”