Scottish Government urged to implement longstanding school meal commitment as Nick Clegg promises universal free school meals for English infant schools

Scottish Free School Meals campaigners are urging Holyrood Ministers to make good on longstanding commitments to roll out free school meals for all pupils in the early year of primary school as the UK Coalition government looks set to introduce an approach successfully piloted by the SNP Scottish government in 2007/8.

John Dickie, Head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland and a leading member of the Scottish Free School Meals Campaign said:

"With Scotland's families being battered by UK government tax and benefit policies, stagnating wages and soaring food prices, free healthy school lunches have never been so important. This is the ideal time for Scottish Ministers to deliver on longstanding commitments to roll out free school meals to all pupils in the early years of primary school. Ensuring all children in P1 to P3 receive a free healthy school lunch would provide much needed relief to hard pressed family budgets, protect against rising levels of child poverty and food poverty and at the same time boost our children's health, education and well-being. It is great news for children in England that this policy is now being adopted south of the Border but its vital the policy is now fully implemented in Scotland."

Notes

For further comment contact John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland on 07795 340 618.

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]

7. Despite this progress there remains an overall gap between the number of pupils receiving a free school meal and the number of pupils officially recognised as living in poverty. In 2010/11 21% of children were officially recognised as living in poverty (an estimated 139 800 school children, but the June 2010 free school meals statistics show only 17.8% of pupils registered and only 14.6% of pupils (97 096) receiving a free school meal. Around 40 000 fewer pupils are therefore receiving a free school meal than are recognised as living in poverty. (Total number of pupils 665 699 (extrapolated from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/06/4917). 21% all children live in poverty AHC (see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/06/7976/5). Estimate for school pupils in poverty 21% of 665 699 is 139 800.

We use figures from 2010 – the latest year we have both child poverty and school meal statistics).

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[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