Scotland’s biggest teaching union has urged the government to “act more decisively” and expand the roll-out of free school meals to every pupil in the country as an “urgent priority”.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) welcomed the news that all primary four pupils will be entitled to a free meal from the beginning of this academic session and the “imminent” expansion to primary fives.
The union’s general secretary Larry Flanagan has written to the education minister to urge the Scottish Government to commit to the move as part of its programme aimed at tackling child poverty “without further delay”.
In the letter, Mr Flanagan urges the government to offer what he says “could be a lifeline for many families”.
The letter reads: “The EIS welcomes the expansion of free school meals to all Primary four children at the beginning of this academic session and the imminent expansion to Primary fives but is clear that provision needs to be extended and accelerated to be inclusive of all young people at all stages of school in Scotland, as an urgent priority.
“As the cost of living rises and the economic shocks of the pandemic continue to be felt, thousands of parents, women who are single mothers especially, are going regularly without food in order that their children can eat, both at home and in school.”
Looking to highlight issues with the current means-tested model of free school meal provision for pupils above P5 Mr Flanagan and how many older pupils will miss out due to the social stigma with their peer groups.
He wrote: “Many families are unaware of their entitlements to free school meals so are missing out; many others fall just below the threshold of entitlement so are missing out; and crucially, many older children- the group who are entirely excluded from the current provision- those who are entitled to free meals, experience real stigma in going to collect one, so miss out rather than suffer the shame.
“Against such a backdrop, the EIS calls on the Scottish Government to act more decisively and with a similar strength of commitment to that shown in the recent budget announcement of the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment from April to offset the cuts to social security that have been imposed by the UK Government. This essential payment will be a lifeline to many families.”
The letter concludes: “The EIS is in no doubt that the Scottish Government is more than capable of such committed endeavour to safeguard families from the worst ravages of poverty, and towards this, would urge that appropriate steps are taken to expand universal free meals provision, in alignment with UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) principles, to all school-aged children without further delay.”