Urgent action must be taken by the Scottish Government to roll out universal access to free school meals, a leading teaching union has said.
The EIS have written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as the Scottish Government prepares its emergency budgetary response to the cost of living crisis.
In the letter, general secretary Andrea Bradley said hundreds of thousands of families are being driven into poverty as a result of the crisis and that “stigma-free access to food during the school day and holiday periods” should be one of the emergency measures taken by the government.
The union called upon Scotland to “be a beacon of human decency in the midst of this cost of living emergency” following the appointment of a new Westminster Government who, they say, “care nothing for ordinary people”.
The Scottish Government had planned a phased approach to the expansion of universal free school meals in primary schools with trials also expected for secondary schools.
The union are now calling for urgent provision of the service, including for those in year groups from P6 to S6.
The letter reads: “That the Scottish Government is preparing a budgetary response to the current cost of living emergency, which we know is driving hundreds of thousands more families into poverty, underscores the indisputable need for swift action to ensure that every child and young person attending school can be provided daily with at least one school meal, or with the means to buy one should the current school meal infrastructure demand an alternative means of mustering an emergency response.”
It continues: “Whilst it is understood that the Scottish Government had planned a phased approach to the expansion of universal free school meals for primary-aged pupils and the trialling of such provision in secondary, the EIS is of the view now more than ever, that stigma-free access to food during the school day and holiday periods for all children and young people, including those from P6 to S6, has to be one of the emergency measures that Scotland takes.”
Ms Bradley commended the commitments made by the Scottish Government yesterday, which confirmed that the rate of the Child Payment would be increased to £25.
However, the letter continues by stating: “We are all the more convinced that more must be done – and much faster – if we are to prevent the catastrophe that looms heavily before us, the collective and individual trauma of which would last for years beyond this winter if not averted.”
The letter concludes: “Scotland can and must be a beacon of human decency in the midst of this cost of living emergency and in the face of a newly configured Westminster government which seems to care nothing for ordinary people or their children, least of all those in Scotland.”
In response to the letter, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We know this is a worrying time and we’re doing everything within our limited powers and finite budget to help children, their parents and carers. However, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government and we continue to call on them to take urgent action.
“The Scottish Government is committed to the roll out of free school lunches to all children in primary school during the course of this parliamentary term. All pupils in P1-5, state special schools, and eligible pupils from P6 to S6, are currently entitled to free school meals. This saves parents £400 per year per child and is the most generous free school meal entitlement anywhere in the UK.
“We will go further, expanding universal free school meals to primaries six and seven. During the academic year 2022-23, we will work with our partners to plan for this expansion, supported by £30 million of funding for expansion of catering and dining facilities. Timescales have been adjusted to reflect feedback from local authorities that it would not have been possible for all schools to increase the capacity of their kitchen and dining facilities.
“We are the only nation in the UK offering the Scottish Child Payment, a vital anti-poverty benefit and one of five family payments we provide to support children. It will be increased to £25 per eligible child per week when we extend it to under 16s on 14 November – with its increase to £20 in April, this represents a 150% rise within 8 months.”
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