CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Guardian
North Lanarkshire proposal comes as teachers report seeing more malnourished pupils, The Guardian reports.
A Scottish council plans to provide free meals to children who need them 365 days a year, in a scheme that will be the first of its kind in the UK if approved at a council meeting next Tuesday.
Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire council will pilot the “Food 365” programme in Coatbridge during the Easter break, with the expectation of expanding it to cover the whole of the council area in time for the summer holidays.
The syndrome of “holiday hunger” is an increasingly familiar one, with teachers observing a significant rise in recent years and charities reporting that pressure on food banks doubles during the school holidays.
Describing the plans as “the most ambitious in the country”, the council education convenor Frank McNally told the Guardian: “This goes beyond ‘holiday hunger’ to cover the weekend period too, because what teaching staff were picking up is that some children were leaving school on a Friday and not having another substantial meal until they came back to school on Monday.
“Both research and our own anecdotal evidence shows that children regularly skipping meals has a massive impact on behaviour, concentration and cognitive development.
“It’s horrendous to think that in 21st-century Scotland children are coming to school malnourished, but it’s the sad reality that some families face the choice of heating their home or feeding their children.”
Noting that North Lanarkshire has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation in Scotland, with 21% of children living in low-income households, McNally also expressed his concern that these pressures would only be exacerbated by further Westminster reform of the benefits system.
The expansion of school meals entitlement, which has been costed at £500,000, will be provided in community centres and local leisure facilities at weekends, with the express aim of playing down the stigma of children having to head into school to be fed on days off. There are also plans to link the meals to activity and sports projects for young people, and also bring in welfare officers to offer informal advice to parents, for example, to ensure that they are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to.
In a survey carried out last April by the National Union of Teachers in England, 80% of teachers noted a rise in “holiday hunger”, with a third saying pupils were returning to school with signs of malnourishment. Almost three-quarters of teachers said this was negatively affecting children’s education.
Last month, the Westminster government refused to support a draft bill put forward by Frank Field, who chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on holiday hunger, that would have placed a duty on local authorities to make sure disadvantaged pupils were fed during school breaks.
While other councils in the UK already provide holiday programmes, these do not include weekends, so North Lanarkshire’s aims to be the most comprehensive in the country.
The proposals will be discussed by councillors at a meeting of the education committee on Tuesday.