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More than £1million is owed by families across the country who are unable to pay for their children’s school meals, according to the Aberlour children’s charity. The charity stressed the issue did not end there and was, instead, “merely the tip of the iceberg”.
Guidelines from the UK Government stress the importance of ensuring children “have the energy and nutrition they need top get the most from their whole school day”.
The £1million figure is mainly owed by pupils in the final years of primary school because children in the first five years received universal free school meals in Scotland.
Older students who are not eligible for free meals are having to go hungry, with some saving their lunch money to give back to their parents, the report, seen by the Guardian, revealed.
One boy said: “In my friend group, I’d say about half of them can’t eat food when we go out, so you see people buying food for their friends…
“We go to Greggs and, because I’ve got like £3 or £3.50 to spend, I’ll get two yum yums and a sausage roll and I’ll give them the yum yums.”
Morag Treanor, the author of the report, said there were “unquantified levels of hidden hunger in secondary schools”.
Her paper argued all primary school students should have access to free school means, as well as more secondary school students.
It also called on the SNP Government to increase the threshold for free meals to over £25,000.
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The Aberlour report argues this threshold has not increased enough over the past 20 years, meaning low-income families “have been gradually excluded from the free school meal system”.
From now on, it added, the figure should increase in line with inflation.
Trussell Trust Scotland head Polly Jones responded to the report in a post on Twitter, noting: “What gets me is how much stress and shame being in debt to the school for lunches will put on kids and their families.
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“Surely this can be written off by [the Scottish Government] and prevented by extending free school meals to all children?”
Aberlour highlighted that “from everything we are seeing this is merely the tip of the iceberg”.
Martin Canavan, the charity’s head of policy and participation, accepted that the report’s recommendations amounted to a “big ask”.
He, quoted in the Guardian, insisted: “The Scottish Government can do that through devolved powers.
“Far fewer families are eligible for free school meals now than they were 20 years ago when the thresholds were first introduced, despite the fact that in the last 10 years we’ve seen child poverty significantly rise.”
Express.co.uk approached the SNP for comment.
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