Scotland politics

Scots children 'should not miss out' on free school meals

Child poverty campaigners in Scotland have said that no one should miss out as a result of changes to the UK welfare system.

The new universal credit will replace existing benefits that are used as a "passport" to receive additional local services such as free school meals.

Holyrood's welfare committee heard that such benefits were "very valuable to families".

The Scottish government is running a passported benefits consultation.

Ministers said they are working to ensure families did not lose these additional benefits when the universal credit is applied next month.

In a committee session on Tuesday morning, MSPs heard John Dickie, of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, say: "A family with two children here in Edinburgh, free school meals alone is worth over £700 a year to them - so this is an important source of support to families."

He stressed to members that no one should miss out as a result of the UK benefit changes.

The committee also heard from Marion Davis from One Parent Families Scotland and Lisa Marshall from Children 1st.

They both highlighted the importance of free school meals.

Ms Marshall said: "We strongly support the wider eligibility of free school meals to ensure that all vulnerable children in Scotland are entitled."

Ms Davis said that lone parents, 92% of whom are women, were already at the forefront of the welfare reform changes to income support and job seekers' allowances.

She added that lone mothers would continue to be hardest hit.

Ms Davis said: "On free school meals we would like to say we have looked at this very closely and we believe strongly that there are ways to improve access to free school meals that this is an opportunity to do this over the coming period."

Around 139,800 children live in poverty in Scotland but only 97,096 receive a free school meal, figures compiled by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland show.

In a submission to the committee before his appearance, CPAG's Mr Dickie said: "In 2010-11, 21% of children were officially recognised as living in poverty (an estimated 139,800 school children), but the June 2010 free school meals statistics show only 17.8% of pupils registered and only 14.6% of pupils (97,096) receiving a free school meal.

"Around 40,000 fewer pupils are therefore receiving a free school meal than are recognised as living in poverty.

"Short of the provision of free healthy lunches to all school pupils, the introduction of universal credit from October 2013 creates an opportunity to ensure free school lunch entitlement criteria is reviewed to bridge this entitlement gap."

The committee also heard from Richard Meade from Barnardo's Scotland; Eddie Follan from the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform; Clair Malpas from Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

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