New scheme to give poor children free meals every day of the year

Scottish council behind the idea believes it would be the UK's most comprehensive free-meals scheme

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A Scottish council is planning what it says will be the most comprehensive free-meals programme in the UK, by providing food 365 days a year to children from low-income households.

North Lanarkshire Council proposes expanding its free-meal entitlement beyond the school gates to cover the 175 days when pupils are not at school – on weekends and during holidays – in a bid to address “holiday hunger”, which research suggests can leave some pupils lagging behind educationally.

The "Food 365" programme, which will be discussed by the council’s education committee meeting on Tuesday, would cost around £500,000 a year.

Education convener Frank McNally 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."

He added: "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."

In North Lanarkshire, which has some of the highest levels of deprivation in Scotland, nearly 21 per cent of children live in low-income households.

The council said national research shows that almost a third of parents with incomes 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.

A survey carried out in England by the NUT teaching union found that 80 per cent of teachers noted a rise in "holiday hunger" – children returning from holidays suffering from poor nutrition.

If approved, the scheme would be piloted in the town of Coatbridge this spring and, if successful, could be rolled out across the area in time for the summer holidays. It would be run in 23 “hubs” across the authority, usually in community facilities.

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