A children’s charity has issued a plea to local authorities to make sure that “no child goes hungry” by switching to cash payments as a replacement for free school meals while schools are shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland says that cash payments “increase uptake significantly” of free meals, and it wants councils to scrap schemes that mean families are issued with food vouchers that often limit them to one supermarket chain, or mean that they have to collect free meals from hubs.
It said some families who were isolating could not use food vouchers because they had to be used in store, and could not be used online.
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Other issues included families having to walk long distances or travel on public transport to get to specific stores, or getting access to the shops that were busier than usual due to voucher schemes.
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A lack of quality food and fresh food, depending on which supermarket the vouchers were for, was also highlighted as a problem.
CPAG says: “Many parents in Scotland are unable to travel, whether because they are self-isolating or because they simply cannot afford to. For those families, food provision from a central location or vouchers that require parents to go to a single shop is limiting the extent to which much-needed support reaches these families. For those who can collect food, this can lead to problems with maintaining a safe social distance.”
It adds: “Given the mounting evidence from across the UK, and particularly from parents in Scotland, we firmly believe that cash payments are the best way to give families the certainty and flexibility they need to provide for their children during this exceptional time.”
CPAG made its comments in a submission to the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee, which is investigating the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on vulnerable children.
It is due to hold an evidence session with education secretary John Swinney tomorrow.
The Scottish government recently revealed that around 140,000 pupils were being supported with the provision of a free school meal as part of efforts to support the most vulnerable children during the coronavirus outbreak.
In Edinburgh and Fife. the councils have opted to make direct payments to families, but in Glasgow a food voucher worth £20 for Farmfoods is sent to families every fortnight.
The Scottish government has said that varied approaches allow for “local flexibility as what works best in one community will not necessarily work best in another community”, but it has also said it will keep the provision under review.