All year round free school meals to tackle "holiday hunger"

Free school meals to be available all year round
Free school meals to be available all year round
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A growing number of councils across Scotland are diverting scare resources to provide meals for poorer pupils outwith term-time to combat the scourge of “holiday hunger.”

A growing number of councils across Scotland are diverting scare resources to provide meals for poorer pupils outwith term-time to combat the scourge of “holiday hunger.”

North Lanarkshire Council has unveiled plans to provide school meals 365 days a year and joins other Scottish areas like North Ayrshire and Aberdeen which already provide holiday meals. They have been forced to act because poorer Scots families are struggling to meet the extra cost of food and activities when youngsters are off during to holidays.

Read more: 250,000 Scots pupils eligible for free school meals
North Lanarkshire’s Food 365 programme would cover the 175 days of the year when lunches are not served in school, with a pilot planned this Easter. If successful, it could be extended across the region to 16,000 pupils from P1 to S3 at a cost of £500,000 a year.

“These proposals to tackle weekend and holiday hunger are the most ambitious in the country,” said Councillor Frank McNally, the council’s education convener.

It follows similar initiatives in recent years, including in North Ayrshire where free school meals have been provided during holidays for the past five years as part of roll-out of a programme now covering the whole region.

This Easter the authority will have six schools and three youth centres open and available for pupils at 23 schools, with a similar service provided during the Summer, October and Christmas holidays.

Councillor Jim Montgomerie, Cabinet member for Place, said: “Since being originally launched in three schools, the holiday school meal programme has gone from strength to strength.

“Last summer, it reached more young people than ever and ensures that every child, no matter their background, has access to a warm, healthy meal when they’re not at school.”

Read more: Too early to tell if universal free school meals are beneficial, research finds

In Aberdeen, councillors have backed plans to expand its Food and Fun initiative which was trialled in three schools during the Summer holidays last year. It means a further 10,000 free meals will be provided during the Summer, October and festive holidays during the 2018/19 school year at a cost of £35,000.

Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “it is vital that we give young people in Aberdeen the best opportunity to realise their potential and this is an example of a way in which the council can play its part.”

Tony Graham of the Trussell Trust food bank body said: “Every school holiday foodbanks meet parents who have been skipping meals because their already tight budgets just won’t stretch to cover the price of extra food and activities when their children are off school in the holidays.”