School Meals Debt and Access to Universal Free School Meals

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2022.

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Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

4. To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of increasing hidden hunger due to the cost of living crisis, what action it is taking to address school meals debt and expand access to universal free school meals. (S6O-01343)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

We fully acknowledge that steep cost of living rises are putting a huge strain on some families and that they are facing many unforeseen challenges. All pupils in primaries 1 to 5 at publicly funded schools currently benefit from universal free school lunches during term time, while free school meals remain in place for eligible pupils in other age groups after primary 5.

We continue working with our partners in local authorities to plan for the expansion of free school meal provision to primaries 6 and 7 during this session of Parliament. That work is being supported by £30 million of capital funding in this financial year to support the expansion of catering and dining facilities.

We are working with our partners in local authorities to fully understand the impact of school meals debt on families. In the meantime, I urge all local authorities to do all that they can to resolve any payment issues without withdrawing meals from pupils.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for that update and welcome the commitments that we have heard about this week. We have seen an anonymous donor donate a generous, five-figure sum towards offsetting school meals debt; we need the Government to cover the rest.

Given the cost of living crisis, we must go further and faster on the extension of free school meals. Can the cabinet secretary tell us the dates when pupils in P6 and P7 can expect those to be available? When will we see that equality in our secondary schools?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As I said in my original answer, we are working closely with local authorities to determine what capital work must be undertaken—for example, to increase the capacity of kitchens and dining facilities. That work is on-going and is being supported by £30 million from the Scottish Government. We are continuing that work with local authorities.

I do, of course, recognise the impact of the cost of living crisis on families. That is why there is additional support—for example, through the increase of the Scottish child payment to £25 per week from 14 November for current recipients and the opening of applications for children aged up to 16, which will be a welcome additional support for families across Scotland.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to extending free school meal provision. We already have the most generous universal offer anywhere in the UK. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the number of free school meal registrations in Scotland’s schools?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Indeed, Scotland has the most extensive provision of free school meals in the UK. More than 300,000 pupils are currently registered for free school meals at schools across Scotland.