‘Free lunch lottery’ as Scotland’s children go back to school

August 16, 2010

Campaigners call for government to deliver on promise of free school lunches

Pupils starting school this week face a ‘free lunch lottery’, and not the free meals promised by the Scottish Government and local authorities, say school meals campaigners. Council leaders and Ministers had committed to roll out free school lunches to all P1 to P3 pupils from this week, but only one council, West Dunbartonshire, looks set to deliver. Elsewhere a postcode lottery of school lunch entitlement is emerging as councils and Ministers backtrack on the commitment. Some councils plan to target schools in disadvantaged areas, some to prioritize P1 pupils and others not to introduce a universal approach to school lunches at all.

Campaigners say a universal approach to healthy free school lunches can play a vital role in boosting children’s health and education, as well as relieving the pressure on hard pressed family budgets. They are calling on local authorities and Scottish Ministers to work together to deliver the free school lunch promise by the start of the next school year.

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and a leading member of the Scottish Free School Meals Campaign, said;

“It’s a huge blow that local authorities and Ministers have failed to deliver on their school lunch promise. However it’s never too late and council leaders and Ministers now need to work together to deliver free school lunches to all P1 to P3 pupils by the start of the next school year. Public finances may be under severe pressure but so are our children and families. It is they that need to be prioritized in all spending decisions.”

Poverty Alliance Director, Peter Kelly, added his voice to the call, saying;

“Free school lunches for all P1 to P3 pupils are a key plank in national anti-poverty strategy. Failure to deliver undermines progress to tackle poverty at a time when an increasing number of families are facing real financial hardship.”

Marion Davis, Policy Manager at One Parent Families Scotland, another member of the Free School Meals Campaign, added;

“Free healthy school meals can play a vital role in tackling health inequalities, boosting children’s readiness to learn and tackling poverty by freeing up much needed resources in hard pressed family budgets. It really is time for councils and the Scottish Government to deliver on their promise”.

Notes for editors

For further information please contact:

John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland, on 0141 552 3656 or 07795 340 61802

  1. A universal approach to free school meals in primary school is supported by a massive cross section of Scottish society, including children and families charities such as Children 1st, Save the Children, Action for Children (NCH), Children in Scotland and One Parents Families Scotland; trade unions and professional associations including the STUC, EIS, Association of Headteachers and Deputes Teachers (AHDS), RCN (Scotland), Scottish Women’s Convention, Unison; anti-poverty groups such as the Poverty Alliance; faith groups including members of the Scottish Churches Social Inclusion Network and the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland; health boards and academics
  2. Evaluation of the Scottish pilot free school meal programme for P1 to P3 pupils (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/236867/0064986.pdf )shows that universal provision massively boosts take up of healthy school meals as well as relieving pressure on family budgets:
  • take up of free school meals increased from 53% to 75%
  • amongst children already entitled to free school meals take-up also rose (by up to 8.5 percentage points)
  • “..the trial…impacted positively on the home environment of pupils,” and, “.. the simple benefit of increasing disposable income was particularly evident amongst parents with more than one child.”