MSPs shocked by poor and hungry Scottish pupils

MSPs have expressed their deep concern at increasing child poverty and are appalled that children are going to school hungry.

MSPs have expressed deep concern at child poverty in Scotland
MSPs have expressed deep concern at child poverty in Scotland

A hard-hitting report published today by MSPs on Holyrood’s Education have called for poverty proofing measures to help the poorest students.

The document outlines a series of recommendations to address the attainment gap, which sees children from richer homes outperform their poorer counterparts.

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It said: “The Committee is deeply concerned that the incidence of child poverty is increasing. The Committee was appalled by some of the evidence it heard, including the amount of evidence received about children in Scotland going to school hungry.”

The report said there should be a review of meals policy, which takes into account schemes like the one offer in North Lanarkshire which offers free meals during the holidays.

It also recommends looking at Glasgow where free school meals to all pupils up to primary four.

The review should also examine ways of increasing free school meal uptake amid reports that the “stigma” attached to poverty is discouraging some chidren from accessing them.

Poverty-proofing measures should include ending requirements for excessively expensive or unnecessary pieces of school uniform. Reducing the complexity of school uniforms would reduce the cost burden of education on families

Education authorities are urged to consider evidence given to the committee which suggested children, who were unable to buy or maintain uniforms, being chastised for their appearance.

The report also suggested moving to online payments for school dinners or trips could disadvantage families without access to computers. During evidence sessions, the committee heard that some families cannot afford hot water for showers or beds which affected attendance at school and children’s readiness to learn when they are there.

Committee convener James Dornan of the SNP said MSPs had been told “aspects of UK social security policy are the single biggest reason for the increase in child poverty”.

He added: “We heard time and again that teachers are increasingly seeing children who are affected by poverty, including children coming to school hungry.

“That this is an increasing problem in Scotland is utterly appalling, but we know that this is something that schools cannot tackle alone. Clearly the Scottish Government, education authorities and schools are working hard to address these issues, but there is still more to do.”

The Scottish Government is being urged to survey local education authorities to establish which of these bodies charge for in-school activities, and how much these charges are.

Another suggestion is for ministers to look at rolling out a system of using more schools as hubs where families can get advice on how to maximise their income.