Scots pupils 'should get free meals'

Pupils having school meal
Image caption The organisations say free meals would boost pupils' health and ease the financial pressures on families

The Scottish government has been urged to give pupils the same entitlement to free school meals as those in England.

Children in the first three years of schools in England will get a free lunch from September 2014.

The Scottish government made a similar pledge in 2010.

But a group of 11 unions, churches and children's organisations claimed progress has been "limited" and has even been "scaled back" by some councils.

They have sent a letter to Scottish ministers, urging them to match the commitment for England announced by Deputy First Minister Nick Clegg last week.

Scotland will receive an additional £60m in Barnett consequentials as a result of Mr Clegg's announcement, the organisations said.

'Real concern'

They called for the money to be allocated to free school meals in Scotland.

The letter states: "We have all welcomed the Scottish Government's long standing policy objective of moving toward the provision of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3, the SNP manifesto commitment to 'look at ways of expanding current provision' and the progress that has been made in widening entitlement to free school meals.

"Nevertheless it has been a matter of real concern and disappointment that, to date, the roll-out of free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3, as announced by the Scottish government in 2010, has not yet been fully implemented.

"What limited progress that had been made by local authorities has been scaled back in recent years.

"We therefore believe that the UK Government announcement, and the additional resources that we understand are to be made available, create a huge opportunity for the Scottish Government to now fulfil its ambition of providing a free healthy meal to all children in P1 to P3.

"We urge you to ensure the Scottish Government acts as soon as possible to confirm that P1 to P3 children in Scottish primary schools will also now receive a healthy school lunch from September 2014."

The letter is signed by unions Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), plus union umbrella group STUC.

Children's groups Save the Children, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and One Parent Families in Scotland also signed the letter, as did the Church of Scotland and poverty groups Shelter and Poverty Alliance.

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith added: "Families across the country are under massive pressures as benefit and tax credit cuts bite, wages stagnate and the cost of food and energy soar.

"Ensuring children in the early years of primary school all get a healthy free lunch would play a hugely important role in relieving pressure on family budgets, helping make work pay for parents and boosting children's health and wellbeing."

CPAG Scotland head John Dickie added: "Scotland has led the way over the last few years in improving school lunches, piloting and committing to universal school meals in the early years of primary and expanding entitlement.

"This is now the ideal time for ministers to take the next step and deliver long-standing commitments to roll out free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3.

"Such a move would protect against rising levels of child poverty and food poverty and at the same time ensure all our children are able to get the most out of the school day."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Nearly a quarter of primary school pupils are currently registered for free school meals in Scotland.

"We are committed to expanding this provision further and, once we see the financial implications of this announcement for Scotland, we will examine how best to deliver that expansion.

"We have not been informed of any consequential funding in this area and have written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for clarification that consequential funding for Scotland will be provided in full as an addition to the current Scottish government budget."

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