Council To Evaluate Options For Free School Meals

Dumfries and Galloway Council will consider a report on its holiday food programme 2020/21 on 25 June 2020.

Councillors will consider options in light of the Covid-19 emergency and evaluate the cash payment option for meals.

The Council will be asked to:
Note previous arrangements for holiday food provision;
Agree to allocate £374,000 of unallocated poverty development funding to deliver a direct cash payment method to provide holiday food during the summer 2020 holiday period;
Agree to allocate £60,000 of underspend in the Covid-19 hardship fund to deliver a partnership model to provide holiday food at Christmas 2020 and February 2021; and
Note the findings of the evaluation of the direct cash payment for free school meals.

Working with Third Sector organisations, the Council has ensured that there has been free food and a range of activities during school holidays in every ward since October 2019 through its Holiday Food Programme [formerly called Holiday Hunger].

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it won’t be possible for Third Sector organisations to deliver holiday food programmes in the summer 2020 holiday period. The Council has, therefore, considered a different model of how to continue supporting the most vulnerable children and young people by providing food until Third Sector organisations can work collaboratively again.

Following a report to the Council’s Covid-19 sub-committee [24 April 2020], the Council agreed to enhance options for those eligible to receive free school meals with a direct payment to families of £17.50 a week [£2.50 a day] for each child. This has resulted in an uptake in those accessing free school meals and positive feedback from families.

Continuing cash payments during the summer holiday period will ensure continued support to families in line with the Council’s anti-poverty strategy and the priority to support the region’s most vulnerable children.

From 1 April 2021, the Scottish Government will phase in payments of £10.00 a week for each child under the new Scottish Child Payment Benefit, which will be delivered through Social Security Scotland. The Scottish Government intends that this payment will help to cover the costs of food during school holiday periods and will be allocated on the same criteria for free school meals.

Council Leader Elaine Murray said: “During the Covid-19 emergency, our Council is doing all that we can to help families cope with what are clearly exceptional and challenging circumstances. Providing free school meals is a key way to reduce pressure on families and ensure that every child has a nutritious meal each day. Widened eligibility for free school meals provides additional support to families that are experiencing a reduced income during the pandemic. We considered the option of food vouchers but access to supermarkets in rural areas is limited and food vouchers cause stigma for families. The direct payment option provides dignity and choice for all families that need this support, ensuring that parents can provide for their children.”
Depute Leader Rob Davidson said: “Our Council is determined to reduce the stresses and pressures on hard-pressed people in our region during the Covid-19 emergency. Free school meals ensure that many local parents and carers have one less thing to worry about. It’s absolutely vital that children are fed and continue to eat healthily. Adding the direct payment option fits with the recommendations of the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which states that putting cash direct to families is one of the biggest levers to address child poverty. Our Council has checks in place to ensure that our most vulnerable families are supported.”

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