Campaign launched for free school meals for all kids from nursery to secondary

A campaigning labour councillor wants EVERY pupil in Scotland to be given a free school meal.

The plan would expand on present policy, which gives kids up to primary four complimentary grub in the dining hall.

Older pupils including secondary age can currently only get a free meal if their family has cash issues.

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But Councillor Alison Dowling has lodged a public petition with the Scottish Parliament in a bid to garner widespread backing.

And she said: “My proposal will also help parents who miss meals to ensure their children can eat during the school day.

“Food and child poverty is a condemnation of what is supposed to be a civilised society. I totally reject the idea that we must accept it as an everyday fact of life in Scotland.”

Councillor Dowling represents Houston, Crosslee and Linwood on Renfrewshire Council.

The labour member has not yet costed her ‘Schools Free From Hunger’ campaign, but says families in her ward area are struggling.

Renfrewshire Council, she says, would operate the scheme fully funded by the Scottish Government, including during holidays.

She said: “Across Houston and Linwood many families are dealing with the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic on their employment.

“Many have lost their job with employers like Rolls Royce or they’re working reduced hours. People who have never had to worry financially are now dealing with food insecurity for the first time.

“Some fall just outside the threshold for claiming benefits and are struggling on without help.”

The aim of her campaign – which should go live shortly on the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions system – is to ensure no child is hungry during lessons.

Under the plan all meals from nursery to secondary would be universally free and there would be emphasis on getting rid of practical barriers such as dinner halls that are too small.

She added: “Free, healthy school meals for all children would also remove the stigma of ‘difference’ and would ensure that all children and young people get at least one healthy meal each day, crucial for their education and development.

“Some children entitled to free meals don’t take them because of the stigma, or because parents are embarrassed about applying.

“Some low-income families are not entitled to free meals but can’t afford them, or can only afford a school dinner for a few days each week.”

The STUC Women’s Committee have also called on the Scottish Government to expand the scheme to all.

Councillor Dowling said: “Food and energy prices are rising and the poverty gap has stubbornly refused to close.

“Over a third of children in my ward will be living in households affected by the removal of the £20 uplift on Universal Credit.

“Food poverty is sometimes hidden within schools, especially with secondary school age pupils.

“Every new school term, many children from low-income families lose access to free school meals as a result of moving out of the year group that provides a free school dinner.

“Hunger doesn’t recognise an age limit.”

The petition called ‘Expand universal free school meals for all nursery, primary and secondary school pupils’ has been lodged with the Scottish Government.

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Daily Record – Paisley