Child hunger fears over school holidays

Children being served a school meal Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than 255,000 children are registered for free school meals in Scotland

The state has a responsibility to ensure that every child in Scotland has access to food, according to the children's commissioner.

Bruce Adamson also called on ministers to gather accurate data on the number of children who go hungry because they do not have access to free meals during school holidays.

About 255,230 pupils are registered for free school meals in Scotland.

The government said it was "taking steps" to measure food insecurity.

Mr Adamson paid tribute to charities such as the Trussell Trust, which has begun a pilot project in Glasgow to offer cookery lessons to parents struggling to make ends meet during the holidays.

'Community level'

He told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "There shouldn't be stigma attached to having basic rights to food.

"The obligation is on the state to make sure that every child in Scotland is getting access to the food, the education, the healthcare, everything that they need. And that shouldn't be a problem in the holidays.

"The more support we can provide to the Trussell Trust and to all of the different programmes right across Scotland at community level that are delivering these important rights for children, the better."

He added: "It is a particular challenge over the holidays, which should be a time of joy and excitement and fun, but actually it is the most challenging time of the year for many families in Scotland facing poverty."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than 77% of p1-3 school children take up the option of a free school meal

The Scottish government introduced free school meals for all children in primary 1-3 in 2015. Since then, more than 77% of the 173,000 five to seven-year-olds that are registered take up the option of a free meal at school.

However, the numbers registered falls significantly for subsequent age groups, with only 39,215 registered in P4-7 and 38,841 secondary school pupils entitled to a free meal during term time.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said that no child should be going hungry and that tackling inequality was a key government priority.

'Better measure'

She added: "Local authorities have the flexibility to provide meals to children outwith term time and some chose to use this flexibility during school holidays by providing holiday lunch clubs.

"In addition, we have already invested over £350m in welfare mitigation measures, in addition to our £1m Fair Food Fund, which supports projects that promote dignity and harness the social potential of food to connect people and develop sustainable solutions to food poverty."

She acknowledged that more work was needed to measure the numbers of children thought to be going hungry.

She said: "The Scottish government has therefore taken steps to better measure the full range of food insecurity in Scotland.

"Three questions on food insecurity in Scotland will be included in the Scottish Health Survey 2017. Thereafter, the full United Nations food insecurity question set will be included in the SHS from 2018 onwards.

"This will allow internationally comparable baseline data on food insecurity in Scotland to be available in 2019 with further data sets available annually thereafter."