Call for cash payments for families in receipt of free school meals

Scotland’s largest teaching union, charities, churches and parents groups have banded together to call for families in Scotland to be given a cash payment in lieu of free school meals, after it was announced schools will close from Friday.

They have written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warning “low-income families are already struggling to make ends meet” and that the additional cost of providing lunch will be “a significant, and in many cases unmanageable, financial pressure on families”.

Ms Sturgeon announced on Wednesday afternoon schools across Scotland would close by the end of the week, having lost too many staff amid the coronavirus outbreak to continue as normal.

Later, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell revealed a £350 million coronavirus support package.

Signatories to the letter include the Church of Scotland, the EIS teaching union, the National Parent Forum, Child Poverty Action Group, One Parent Families Scotland and Citizens Advice Scotland.

They said: “Building on the welcome support announced today by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, we believe the most effective way to protect families from the additional pressure that loss of free school meals will create will be to make cash payments to families currently in receipt of free school meals.

“We believe support in the face of the Covid-19 crisis must be provided in a way that gives families the choice and agency to meet their family’s needs in this exceptional time.

“A cash payment in lieu of free school meals would be a dignified response, respectful of human rights and avoiding any potential stigma.”

Ms Campbell announced almost £100 million will go to Scotland’s councils to help deal with the pandemic.

An additional £70 million Food Fund has been created to “support households who may be worried about accessing food whether due to an income drop or self-isolating”, she said.

Education Secretary John Swinney is due to give a statement to parliament on Thursday on measures being put in place regarding education in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier, the Scottish Government said among the priority groups it is working with local authorities to mitigate the impact on are “vulnerable pupils and those receiving free school meals”.

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