A national charity is calling for free meals to be available to children over school holidays but Falkirk Council will not be providing them.
The local authority, which currently offers free meals to over 5000 pupils entitled to them during term time, confirmed this week it would not be following North Ayrshire Council’s example and serving up free dinners to thousands of children over the school holidays
The expanded free school meal policy came into effect in January and Falkirk Council had to go from providing 1000 youngsters – 18 per cent of the area’s P1 to P3 pupils – with a free school meal to the possibility of providing free dinners for 5600.
Despite receiving £2.3 million from the Scottish Government over the next two years to put the plan into action, the council’s education officials admitted the new policy gave them “significant challenges” in terms of space and staffing.
Children in Scotland, which aims to improve the childhoods of Scottish youngsters, supported the free school meal change at the time, but is now urging councils to take it a stage further.
Jackie Brock, Children in Scotland chief executive, said: “The recent budget targeted further welfare cuts at our poorest families. Scotland has gone a long way to address hunger for young children during term-time, but we need to focus on how we can support families during holidays when pressures are most intense.
“Poorer families will find feeding their children, and finding childcare and holiday activities, very difficult and stressful. We must do more to support them.
“Scotland has policies in place on food and wellbeing, as well as Curriculum for Excellence, that makes us well placed to make a change. Alongside a co-ordinated and strategic response to poverty and hunger, we need sustainably funded projects at a local authority or community level that can offer free meals outwith term time.”
Around 250,000 children are entitled to – and around 135,000 receive – free school meals as a result of the Scottish Government’s move to provide them for all P1 to P3 pupils during term time.
It is estimated the change saves families at least £330 a year per child.
According to Children in Scotland, there are good examples of meal provision schemes already working at a local level and the charity itself is currently developing a Families, Food, Futures programme across three local authorities.
The initiative, based in areas of high deprivation, will encourage schools to offer a free and nutritious meal as part of a wider range of activities for children and their families.