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Council plans free school meals all year long

North Lanarkshire Council hopes the ‘Food 365’ plan will tackle the problem of ‘holiday hunger’.

A council is planning to offer free school meals 365 days a year to children from low income households to help tackle “holiday hunger”.

North Lanarkshire Council proposes expanding its free meal entitlement beyond the school gate to cover the 175 days of the year when pupils are not at school during weekends and school holidays.

The local authority’s leisure and culture facilities and community facilities could be used to help deliver the service which would cost around £500,000 a year.

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North Lanarkshire Council Education Committee convener Frank McNally (North Lanarkshire Council/PA)

North Lanarkshire Council said the “Food 365” programme, which will be discussed at the education committee meeting on Tuesday, could help tackle “holiday hunger” and would bring noticeable benefits for young people.

Councillor Frank McNally, convener of education, 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.

“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.”

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Some teachers report that children return to school after the holidays suffering from poor nutrition (Chris Radburn/PA)

Nearly 21% of children live in low income households in North Lanarkshire, which is one of the nine “challenge authorities” in Scotland with the highest levels of deprivation.

The council said national research shows 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 by the National Union of Teachers in England found 80% of teachers noted a rise in “holiday hunger”, where children return from holidays suffering from poor nutrition.

If approved by the education committee the scheme would be piloted in Coatbridge over the 2018 Spring Break and, if successful, could then be rolled out across the area in time for the summer holidays.

The programme, if approved, will be delivered in 23 “hubs” across the authority area, usually in community facilities.

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