Scottish councils urged to cancel £1m school meal debt for families amid cost of living crisis


Councils have been called on to help families cope with the cost of living crisis by wiping out £1m in school meal debt.

The Scottish Greens said the “eye watering” amounts should be written off as chasing the sums causes embarrassment for pupils.

Labor accused the Greens of “sheer hypocrisy” over the demand after backing a “savage cuts” to council budgets.

Free school meals currently apply to children in some primary years, but charges apply to other age groups.

The Greens, who share power with the SNP in the Scottish Government, asked all 32 councils for the total debt incurred by families in schools and nurseries.

Twenty eight local authorities provided figures, with North Ayrshire confirming £141,528 of debt and £114,690 in Aberdeen.

The figure in Perth and Kinross stood at £81,026, South Lanarkshire came in at £107,847, while Edinburgh was £40,497.

Green MSP Ross Greer
Green MSP Ross Greer

Of the £968,082 total, £812,026 was incurred by families in primary schools, £55,571 in secondaries and a much smaller £1,143 in nurseries.

Debt in additional support needs schools was £18,463 and £15,126 in “3-18 schools”.

Green MSP Ross Greer said councils should waive the debt: “Children can’t get a good education if they’re hungry at school.

“Most councils will rightly ensure every pupil has a meal at lunchtime, even if they don’t have the money to cover it, but these figures make it clear that debts are being chased from families who simply can’t pay.

“With the cost of living crisis putting huge pressure on family finances, this is the right time to write off all outstanding school meal debt.

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“Pursuing the debt is causing stress and embarrassment for pupils and their families but I’ve also spoken to school staff who hate being put in the position of asking pupils for money they know the family does not have.

He added: “I’m proud that as a result of the cooperation agreement between the Greens and SNP we are rolling out free school meals to all primary school children, as well as taking other measures to help family budgets such as free bus travel for under 22s.

“Writing off this astonishing debt would be an excellent way for councils to also help families with the financial burdens they face.”

Mark Griffin MSP said: “Families across Scotland have racked up worrying amounts of debt on school meals.

“With the cost of living crisis biting, every effort should be made to support families in need.

“But it is sheer hypocrisy for the Scottish Greens, the party that has rubber-stamped years of savage cuts to local government, to pretend that it is on the side of hard-pressed families.

“Make no mistake – the Scottish Greens share in the responsibility for the financial hardship that these families face.”

LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said: “If the Greens really cared about families facing school meal debt they could have paid for it themselves through the Scottish Government budget. Instead the Greens are playing poverty games with the lives of cash strapped families.

“The Greens are part of the problem, not the solution as councils have faced years of cuts thanks to the Greens and the SNP.”

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A spokesperson for council umbrella group COSLA said: “All councils work closely with families to address hardship and where necessary provide financial assistance but given recent Local Government Settlements, there is a real balancing act for councils between realizing income for frontline services and targeting support for families in need.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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