Campaigners welcome First Minister’s universal free school meals announcement

January 7, 2014

“Huge boost for children and families” says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland

Child poverty campaigners have today welcomed an announcement by the First Minister that all children in P1 to P3 will receive a free healthy school lunch. Reacting to the announcement John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said:

“A universal approach to healthy free school lunches provides a huge boost to children and parents at a time when they are under increasing pressure from tax credit and benefit cuts, soaring food and energy prices and stagnating wages. Current means-testing means too many of our worst off children are not receiving a free school meal and parents too often struggle to meet the extra costs of lunches as they move back into work or increase their hours when their children start school. What’s more a universal approach ensures that all our children, whatever their home circumstances, gain the health and education benefits of a healthy lunch in the middle of the school day.”

The announcement follows calls from children’s charities, anti-poverty campaigners, the Church of Scotland and unions representing teachers, caterers and working parents for the First Minister to confirm that all children in primary 1 to 3 will be entitled to a healthy free school lunch from next year.

In a letter to Alex Salmond last month the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), STUC and UNISON told the First Minister that there was growing expectation that the Scottish Government “must now grasp the current opportunity to deliver on its long standing free school lunch ambitions and commitments”. They said prioritising investment in a free healthy school lunch for pupils in P1 to P3 would provide a “well evidenced, direct and immediate boost to the wellbeing of children and families across Scotland.”

The signatories, who also included Shelter Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, say that “a universal approach in the early years has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on the take up of healthy school lunches, on children’s readiness to learn and attainment, and on supporting family budgets and home life”.

Ends

For further details or comments contact John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland on 0141 552 3656 or 07795 340 618

Notes:

1. Anti-poverty campaigners, children’s organizations, trade unions and faith groups have long argued that the most effective way of ensuring all children, but particularly those in poverty, receive a healthy school lunch is to move toward a universal, non means tested approach to the provision of healthy lunches in the middle of the school day (see http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/school-meals ) .

2. Since 2007 SNP governments have made important progress in increasing the number of children, particularly in primary schools, who receive a healthy school lunch by extending entitlement to those in very low income working families and by enabling local authorities to provide free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils with a policy objective of moving toward universal free school meals for all in P1 to P3 (For details see see para 3.4 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/06/4917/8#s343 )

3. The SNP government’s pilot trials of universal provision of free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils in 2007/8 demonstrated a substantial effect on take up of school meals, increasing overall take up by 22 percentage points from 53% to 75%. Furthermore, amongst children already entitled to free school meals take-up rose by 4.4 percentage points[i], and in some areas up to 8.5 percentage points.

4. Further recent research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex[ii] also analysed the wider impact of the Scottish Government’s free school meal pilots. The paper “attributes the rise in take-up of FSMs by those always entitled to a positive peer effect: FSM-registered individuals became more likely to participate because a greater proportion of other students in the school were doing so….The magnitude of the effect is such that in a typical school a 10 percentage point rise in peer-group take-up would reduce non-participation (ie non take up by those already entitled) by almost a quarter.”

5. Evaluation[iii] of the pilots also pointed to a positive impact on family budgets and the home environment. There was, the evaluation concluded, “…evidence that the trial had 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.”

6. The universal approach has not only been shown to increase take up of healthy lunches and relief to family budgets but also to impact positively on children’s learning experience. Evaluation of a free school meals pilot for primary school children over two years in Hull found a “significant impact in all areas of children's schooling...behaviour, social relationships, health and learning”[iv], whilst more recent evaluation of the provision of free school meals to all primary pupils in Durham and Newham found that “offering free school meals to all primary school pupils increased attainment in disadvantaged areas”[v]

[i]http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2008/10/02082551

[ii] https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/publications/working-papers/iser/2012-12.pd...

[iii]http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/08/29114033/0

[iv]Prof. Derek Colquhoun, Hull Uni, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1995361,00.html

[v] http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/6278