Church, unions and campaigners united in “deep concern” over school lunches

January 6, 2010

The EIS, Church of Scotland, Unison and Oxfam have added their voices to growing concern over the future of universal free school lunches for Primary 1 to 3 pupils.

Along with Save the Children, the Scottish Women's Convention, One Parent Families Scotland, Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group they have written to Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell and COSLA President Pat Watters expressing “deep concern” over proposals to scale back the agreed roll out of free school lunches to all P1 to P3 pupils.

In the letter the organisations say that:

“The current economic situation is putting great pressures on family budgets. The roll out of free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils is an important way in which government in Scotland can help relieve those pressures, at the same time as ensuring all young children get a healthy meal in the middle of the school day”

They go on to say:

“Means testing too often fails to deliver to the poorest and targeting is too often not an efficient way of helping the neediest”

They urge that Ministers and local authorities consider the important health, educational and anti-poverty benefits that a universal approach to free school lunches brings. The groups point to the massive increase, of 22 percentage points, in the take up of healthy school lunches in the five local authorities where universal free school meals were piloted , including an increase of up to 8 percentage points amongst those pupils in the lowest income families and already entitled to free school meals.

The signatories to the letter say they hope it is still possible to ensure full roll out of free school lunches in August 2010, as currently agreed in the Concordat between local government and Scottish Ministers, but urge that “any variation from that timetable is accompanied by a clearly set out revised timetable by which Ministers and local authorities agree all P1 to P3 pupils can expect a free school lunch”.

Notes to Editors
  • The Scottish Government last month proposed changes to Concordat commitments to provide free school meals to every P1 to P3 pupil from August 2010. See http://www.holyrood.com/daily/2009/12/10/62-cosla-class-sizes-letter-in-... and http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2009/12/11081922. Following responses from council leaders COSLA and the Scottish Government plan to discuss Concordat education commitments, including the roll out of free school meals.
  • Evaluation of the pilot free schools programme for P1 to P3 pupils found that “Parents, teachers, local authority staff and catering staff were overwhelmingly positive about the provision of universal free school meals for P1 to P3 pupils.”
  • It also found a substantial effect on take up of school meals, increasing take up by 22 percentage points from 53% to 75%, dramatically demonstrating the additional benefit of the universal approach. Furthermore amongst children already entitled to free school meals under the existing means-testing arrangements take-up rose by up to 8.5 percentage points.
  • · Provision of free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils in the Scottish pilot trials also had a positive impact on family budgets and the home environment. There was “…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.”

For further information please contact:

Douglas Hamilton, Save the Children, 0131 527 8200 or 07754360932

John Dickie, Child Poverty Action Group, 0141 552 3656 or 07795 340 618