Thank you for getting in touch with me about the provision of school meals as part of UNITE’s Feed the Weans, Feed the Future campaign.
Free school meals are an essential lifeline for many parents and ensure that every eligible child receives a nutritious meal. It is simply unacceptable in 21st century Scotland that any child faces going hungry at school. In our 2021 manifesto Scottish Labour committed to developing and properly funding free school meal provision, including the use of breakfast clubs, as part of our wider agenda to tackle poverty. We would also expand the universal provision of free school meals to include all primary aged children, and end the scandal of children going hungry during the school holidays.
The Scottish Government had previously set a target of August 2022 for universal primary school provision, however this is yet another broken promise to our school children from the SNP. Despite this Labour groups in councils across Scotland are already leading the way in writing off school meal debt where they can, and Scottish Labour will continue to make the case that resources are made available from the Scottish Government so this can be implemented for families across the country.
Thousands of families across Scotland have been unable to pay for school meals for their children, and over £1 million in school meal debt is owed by parents as a result. In some situations this debt can be pursued aggressively and the debt can follow children from primary to secondary school. The aggressive tactics some are facing when they accrue school meal debt are unacceptable. COSLA have recently published guidelines stating that the approach of local authorities should be “compassionate, proportionate and seek to minimise as far as possible the stigmatisation of children, young people, and their families.”.
However, there is much more the Scottish Government could do to help families at this difficult time. Scottish Labour have called for school meal debt to be written off. We have called for the Scottish Government to provide the funding for this in our cost of living plan, published in August 2022, and during the 2023-24 budget. The SNP’s failure to act while debt burdens families and follows children around is disappointing. My Scottish Labour colleagues and I will continue to make the case for school meal debt to be written off and to ensure that no child is disadvantaged because of school meal debt.
Scottish Labour is fully committed to tacking food insecurity in Scotland. My colleague Rhoda Grant MSP has consulted on a members’ bill to enshrine the right to food into law in Scotland. At stage 2 of the Good Food Nation Bill SNP, Green and Tory MSPs teamed up to vote down a Scottish Labour amendment to give effect to the Right to Food, passing up on the opportunity to tackle the scourge of food poverty at a time when many Scots are struggling to put food on the table.
My Scottish Labour colleagues and I will continue to fight for expanded free school meal provision, the writing off of existing school meal debt, and effective measures to tackle food insecurity so that no child is too hungry to learn.