Glasgow & West Scotland

Free school meals served over holiday

school dinner
Image caption More than 250,000 children across Scotland are eligible for free school meals

A council is serving thousands of free dinners to children over the summer holidays.

North Ayrshire Council hopes the scheme will help youngsters who are entitled to free school meals during termtime.

This is the first time a Scottish council has made a move of quite this nature and scale to help families on low incomes over the school holidays.

Child poverty campaigners claim some parents struggle to feed their children properly when schools are shut.

Across Scotland more than 250,000 children - including all children in P1-3 - are entitled to free school dinners.

In many respects free meals are like a benefit to low income families - except they are not available for several weeks every year.

Holiday activities

North Ayrshire Council is opening 10 primary schools most days during the holidays for out of school activities. Children from 24 schools are eligible to attend.

The scheme is open to all children - some parents may need childcare, other children may want to be with their friends and enjoy the holiday activities.

But for parents of children entitled to free meals there is an important service - free meals in the holidays. Other children pay £2 for a meal.

Council leader William Gibson hopes the scheme will be a real help to families on low incomes. It began two years ago but has been rolled out to primary schools across the area.

Image caption North Ayrshire has opened ten primary schools over the summer for activities and food

About 1,200 meals are now being served every week to children - many of them for free. The council meets the cost itself.

The vast bulk of Scottish councils have no similar schemes although East Renfrewshire has run "summer camps" which include free meals for eligible children at two of its schools for several years.

Renfrewshire Council also has schemes to help children who get free meals over the holidays.

Anti poverty campaigners say there is a real problem with "holiday hunger".

The group Children in Scotland claims food banks and community projects are reporting increases in families seeking food for their children in non-term time.

'Difficult and stressful'

Children in Scotland Chief Executive Jackie Brock said: "Scotland has gone a long way to address hunger for young children during term-time, but we now need to focus on how we can support families during holidays when pressures are most intense.

"Poorer families will find feeding their children, and finding childcare and holiday activities, very difficult and stressful. We must do more to support them.

"Scotland has policies in place on food and wellbeing, as well as Curriculum for Excellence, that make us well-placed to make a change.

"Alongside a coordinated and strategic response to poverty and hunger, we need to look to sustainably funded projects at a local authority or community level that can offer meals out with term-time."

Children in Scotland is currently developing a Families, Food, Futures programme across three council areas.

It will target schools to offer a free and nutritious meal as part of a wider range of activities for children and their families.

The programme will be based in schools with high deprivation levels but provision will be available to all in the school.