Cash transfers should be given to Scotland’s poorest families to help them cope during the school holidays, a poverty commission has recommended.
A report from the Poverty and Inequality Commission highlighted low income families face a number of pressures during holiday periods, ranging from food insecurity to a lack of opportunities for play and activities, social isolation, and parenting challenges.
It noted that during the school holidays a number of key supports for children and families are not provided – such as free school meals, breakfast clubs, after school clubs, after school activities and guidance and pastoral support within school.
The independent body published a series of recommendations after it was asked by the Scottish Government to consider the role of local authorities, social enterprise and the third sector in providing after school and holiday care and responding to school holiday food insecurity.
It said direct cash transfers would provide the most “dignified” way to lessen the financial pressures on families, and recommended the amount should be set at a level that at least matches the equivalent costs of school meals.
Douglas Hamilton, Poverty and Inequality Commission chair, said: “School holidays make up a quarter of the year, so it is no surprise that they can create significant pressures for Scotland’s poorest families around finances, food, opportunities for play, social isolation and parenting.
“The holidays bring additional costs and challenges to already hard-pressed families, particularly over the six-week summer break and at Christmas.
“Free school meals are seen as a vital benefit for the rest of the year but are, in effect, withdrawn during school holidays at a time when families face the most financial pressures.
“The Commission believes that money is the most dignified way to respond to food insecurity, offering families choice in how to meet their needs.
“That’s why our report recommends that the Scottish Government introduce an additional cash benefit during school holiday periods in recognition of the additional costs that families face.”
The report also recommends the Scottish Government, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and local authorities should work together and take a strategic approach to developing and funding a coordinated package of school holiday support that addresses the full range of pressures faced by low-income families.
It also said holiday club provision, with nutritious and culturally appropriate food as a core element, should be available for all children from low income families.
Previous research has found that during the holidays children from low-income families school holidays can miss out on opportunities available to children in higher income families with evidence suggesting so-called “summer learning loss” may be more significant for children from low-income families.
Councillor Stephen McCabe, Cosla Children and Young People spokesman, welcomed the report and said in general terms local authorities work closely with their partners to address child poverty.
He said: “We know from our own data that the vast majority of local authorities provide some form of out of school hours provision for children and young people experiencing poverty.
“Whilst food is a part of this it is also focused on activities and parental support and involvement. This is work that is funded largely by local authorities themselves at a time where there are significant budget pressures on essential services.
“We are in discussions with the Scottish Government on how we can work in partnership to support those on the lowest incomes in the holiday periods and at other times outside of school hours.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said more than £125 million had been invested to try and mitigate UK Government welfare cuts, including through its Fair Food Fund.
He added: “We thank the commission for its detailed report and will give careful consideration to its findings.”