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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Council approves free school meals all-year-round to children from low income households

Written by Laura Paterson

Councillors have approved plans to provide free school meals 365 days a year to children from low income households to help tackle "holiday hunger".

North Lanarkshire Council agreed to expand its free meal entitlement to cover the 175 days of the year when pupils are not at school during weekends and school holidays.

A pilot scheme will take place in Coatbridge during the Easter holidays which, following evaluation, would be extended to cover the whole council area in time for the summer break.

The programme would be delivered in 23 "hubs" across the authority area, usually in community facilities, at a estimated cost of £500,000 a year.

Councillor Frank McNally, convener of the council's education committee, said: "These proposals to tackle weekend and holiday hunger are the most ambitious in the country.

"Groups like the Trussell Trust are struggling to cope with demand from parents and research has suggested that pressure on food banks doubles during the holidays.

"North Lanarkshire has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation in the country and this is only going to be exacerbated by further welfare reforms.

"A good diet plays a key role in healthy growth and development, supporting learning and social skills and sets a positive habit to be continued later in life.

"Our plans will do much to promote healthy eating and address some of the symptoms of poverty for children who need it most."

The council highlighted national research showing almost a third of parents earning under £25,000 skip meals during the school holidays so their children can eat, and nearly two thirds are not always able to afford food outside of term time.

This rises to half and three-quarters respectively for parents with incomes under £15,000.

In North Lanarkshire more than one in five (21%) of children live in low income households.

It is one of the nine "challenge authorities" in Scotland with the highest levels of deprivation.

The plans were approved at a meeting of the council's education committee after a Conservative amendment to delay the plans for more details was defeated by 29 votes to five.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris Radburn / PA Wire.