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by Kirsteen Paterson
16 May 2024
First Minister John Swinney opens £1.5m pot to clear school meal debt

Councils can apply for a share of the funds | Alamy

First Minister John Swinney opens £1.5m pot to clear school meal debt

A £1.5m pot to tackle school meal debt will stop children being "penalised for struggling to pay", John Swinney has said.

The first minister has confirmed the opening of the fund to support councils to address unpaid bills for school dinners.

The one-off, emergency measure aims to combat the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households with children.

While pupils in primaries one to five receive free school meals, as do all youngsters in special schools, older students are charged.

Provision is set to extend to primary six and seven pupils whose families receive the Scottish Child Payment.

A report from 2022 found that more than £1m in dinner money is owed to councils across Scotland and the finance to address this was announced in the latest Scottish Budget.

Local authorities must apply for support to clear their debt.

Swinney said the move will support efforts to eradicate child poverty. He stated: "School meal debt can have a real impact on the wellbeing of families and can serve to stigmatise children whose families are going through challenging times."

He went on: "As a result of a decade and a half of austerity and a cost-of-living crisis caused by the UK Government, too many families are struggling to make ends meet and my government will take all the action we can to support them.

"I am determined that we support our children to have the best start in life. That is why we are expanding free school meal provision to ensure every pupil can have a nutritious meal at school and ensuring no child is penalised simply because their family is struggling."

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