Call for year-round free school meals in Edinburgh to beat holiday hunger

EDINBURGH is being urged to help beat “holiday hunger” by following the example of other councils and making free school meals available all year round.
Missing out on nutritious meals can affect children's health and developmentMissing out on nutritious meals can affect children's health and development
Missing out on nutritious meals can affect children's health and development

Labour councillor Scott Arthur said several authorities across Scotland did more than the Capital to ensure children from deprived backgrounds had enough to eat during the school holidays.

Experts say the absence of free school meals during the long school holidays means many children miss out on vital nourishment, not only affecting their happiness and wellbeing, but also limiting their mental and physical development with long-lasting and wide-ranging consequences.

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Councillor Arthur said the number of children living in poverty in Scotland was set to hit 37 per cent this year. “This exceeds the previous high of 34 per cent recorded in the Nineties, and should shame us all.

“As someone who grew up in a deprived household I know how difficult it can be for parents to feed their children over the summer break.”

But he said Edinburgh’s Discover programme, which offers free meals and other help to the most vulnerable families over the holidays, reached only 10 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals and operated just three days a week from four sites. Other than that, there were only the schemes run by church and charities.

And he called on the city council to learn from North Ayrshire Council and provide free school meals for everyone. He also cited similar schemes in North Lanarkshire, Dumfries & Galloway and Fife.

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Cllr Arthur said a motion he tabled soon after joining the council that all eligible children should be offered free meals during the holidays had been rejected.

But he said he planned to put forward a similar proposal when the council returned from the summer recess.

“Edinburgh should be leading on fighting child poverty, not following others,” he said.

“We have to do much more than grandstand if we really want to deal with child poverty in our Capital.”

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Edinburgh Trades Union Council recently wrote to councillors voicing concern about holiday hunger, the growing use of foodbanks and the problems of Universal Credit.

A council spokeswoman said: “Our budget includes an additional £400,000 to support lower income families, including an increase in uniform grants and the creation of a ‘holiday hunger fund’ so that children can continue to benefit from a school meal outside of term-time.”

She said the Discover programme was well attended and included cooking sessions with children and adults, where families take away the meals they have made.

“We have also established a Child Poverty Action Unit, which is addressing many of the inequalities faced by children in poverty in the city. It is looking at food security and nutrition, food poverty and school meals.”