Thousands of extra pupils to get free – and healthy – school meals
TENS of thousands more children are to get free school meals under plans by the Scottish Government.
From next August, those eligible will include the children of parents on the maximum working tax credit, resulting in an extra 44,000 pupils receiving free meals.
Adam Ingram, the children's minister, revealed the move ahead of an evaluation of a free school meals pilot, which is published today. The report is expected to praise the scheme, under which primary 1-3 children in five local authority areas across Scotland received free, healthy lunches last year.
"We are trying to target people who would benefit from free school meals but whom the entitlement doesn't actually stretch to at the moment," he said. "People are losing out who should be entitled."
Mr Ingram said it would help many families facing financial difficulty.
He went on: "We want to improve the health of children by improving eating habits.
"If we can change a child's palate in early years so they ask for good food, we can lose some of the bad habits which can have bad health effects later in life."
Parents and poverty campaigners described the move as a positive step forward.
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: "It is a very welcome step toward ensuring every child, whatever their home circumstances, gets a healthy meal during the school day.
"It will help boost children's health, education and wellbeing and provide a really welcome benefit to hard-pressed families across Scotland."
Those currently eligible include pupils with parents entitled to income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, or in receipt of child tax credit, but not working tax credit, with income of less than 15,575 in 2008-09.
Mr Dickie said many children officially recognised as living in poverty were currently excluded because of the narrow eligibility criteria. "Extending it to include children in families who receive working tax credit will reach more children in need," he said.
An estimated 110,000 children are living in poverty in Scotland, with 105,000 currently entitled to free school meals.
But Labour claimed that the SNP Government was taking a decision to expand free school meals without providing any more money for councils to implement the policy.
Labour education spokeswoman Rhona Brankin said: "The SNP are shirking their responsibility as a government. It seems that Fiona Hyslop is demanding councils deliver free school meals without providing a single extra penny to pay for it."
And she added: "Local authorities are already struggling to employ newly qualified teachers and class sizes are rising. In some schools there isn't even enough money for photocopying. Free school meals won't be delivered unless SNP Ministers are prepared to pay for them."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east