Free school meals extended through summer holidays
£27.6m will be given to councils to help families during the coronavirus pandemic
Free school meals will continue to be provided to eligible children through the summer holidays, the Scottish Government has announced.
An additional £27.6m will be given to councils to pay for food provisions for low income families during the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of children and young people in Scotland receiving free school meals as well as vouchers or cash payments for food has risen by 53,000 since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total to around 175,000.
It comes as the UK Government u-turned on its previous position on school meals, pledging to provide £120m in food vouchers to around 1.3m children in England after a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.
The money will also go towards helping people who might newly have trouble accessing food, including those asked to self-isolate through contact tracing leading to reduced income, until the end of September.
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney said: “These are challenging times for families and economic uncertainty has added even more pressure on parents already dealing with the stress of this dire COVID-19 crisis.
“We want to ensure families are given the same support through the summer holidays as we provide in term time in recognition of this unprecedented situation. That is why free school meals provision is essential to support families, children and young people who need some extra help at this difficult time.
“This significant additional funding will allow councils to plan for the summer and to continue the existing provision, whether that be offering nutritious free meals for children or through more direct means allowing families to get food for their families. Councils will have the flexibility to ensure they are able to use this additional funding to put in place provision that meets local needs and circumstances.
“£15m of this funding is being made available to ensure we continue supporting the range of households who have been or may experience difficulty in accessing or affording food during the pandemic. We know that people are under pressure just now as they cope with the impact of COVID-19 and this funding shows we are doing all we can to help them at this difficult time. This funding is additional to the £350m we have already made available.”
COSLA spokespeople for resources and children and young people, councillors Gail Macgregor and Stephen McCabe issued a joint statement: “COSLA welcomes today’s announcement from the First Minister on additional funding for food provision.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the effort of council staff in ensuring access to food for those who need it has been heroic.
“Councils and their partners have worked successfully, innovatively and at pace to ensure that eligible children continue to receive free school meals.
“Successful mechanisms have also been put in place in every Local Authority area to ensure food is available to those who are unable to access it by the usual means due to isolation requirements or financial reasons. This support for those who are most vulnerable and for those with low income remains a key priority.
“Councils will continue to work on the front line to ensure this provision remains available to those in need as we continue to respond to COVID-19 and as our communities begin to recover.”
John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “This is fantastic news for the tens of thousands of families across Scotland who have found free school meal replacement such a valuable source of support over the last few months.
“Hard up families are facing extraordinary pressures as jobs are lost, hours reduced and childcare prioritised at the same time as the costs of looking after and educating children at home rise.
“Free school meals have been a really valued source of support and their continuation through the holidays is hugely welcome.
“It is now vital that all Scottish councils move to the cash based free school meal replacement model that is proving so popular with parents in providing choice and flexibility in helping them feed their families.”
The Scottish Government is encouraging people who aren’t able to access or afford food, and can’t get the help they need from family, friends or neighbours, to call the national assistance helpline.
It can provide help and advice on getting food, medication, social work services, emotional support and contact local volunteer groups. The free number is 0800 111 4000, or can be contacted via a textphone on 0800 111 4114. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.