Scottish council will be first to provide school meals 365 days of the year
North Lanarkshire Council has announced plans to provide school children from low-income families with school meals for 365 days of the year.
The "Food 365" programme aims to tackle "holiday hunger" suffered by children during school holidays.
Currently the council provides food to children from poor backgrounds for 190 days of the year - the new initiative, however, will see the council provide meals for the remaining 175 days of the year.
One-third of parents skip meals
The decision to implement the initiative followed research which suggested nearly one-third of parents earning under £25,000 skipped meals during holidays so that their children can eat.
Almost two-thirds are unable to afford food over weekends and during holidays.
While many local authorities across the country have committed to providing low-income families with meals during holidays, North Lanarkshire Council are the first to also offer meals over weekends.
Labour Councillor for Mossend and Holytown, Frank McNally, lauded the proposed changes as "the most ambitious in the country" when it comes to tackling weekend and holiday hunger.
On Twitter, McNally suggested that high poverty levels in Scotland "shames the nation".
260,000 children in Scotland are living in poverty. That is a figure that shames the nation. I have just outlined on #gms @nlcpeople innovative plan to expand free meals to 365 days a year. https://t.co/1PVXkgvIsD
— Frank McNally (@FJMcNally) February 16, 2018
Piloting in Spring
North Lanarkshire council's groundbreaking initiative is set to be rolled out during this year's Spring holidays and will be open to 16,000 pupils in the Coatbridge area.
The council aim to have the initiative rolled out across the region in time for the summer holidays.
Children will be issued with a "smart card" which they can use to check into local community and leisure centres providing the meals. Overall, this is expected to cost the council an extra £500,000 a year.
McNally suggested that the increase in holiday hunger was down to welfare reforms.
“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.
The Food 365 programme plans "to promote healthy eating" (Photo: Shutterstock)
“North Lanarkshire has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation in the country. This is only going to be exacerbated by further welfare reforms.”
He claimed that holiday hunger acted as a "barrier to learning and can have a lasting impact on a child’s future opportunities.”
“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 plans are set to be discussed by councillors at a meeting of the Education Committee later this month.