Free school meals for low-income families should continue in communities after schools close. Here are our proposals:
A food network for Scotland’s most vulnerable children & young people
According to information gathered in February 2018 260,842 children in Scotland were registered for free school meals. On the day that the take up of school meals was being measured take up was 188,247.
The average price of a paid for school meal is £2.38, and the average cost was £3.07.
SPICe have estimated an annual cost of £122m per year, or £3m per week.
We believe that it is vitally important that free school meals continue for children who are registered to receive them. The pressure of feeding children will add to the burden and anxiety that low waged families are currently feeling. No child should have to go hungry during this crisis. Proposals such as those where children would have to go to their school or another central location to collect a free meal would go some way towards negating the purpose and effect of school closures and should be avoided if at all possible.
Means by which free meals could be delivered
- There will be a drop in demand for school meals when schools close. This means that those catering staff who have underlying conditions, need to self-isolate, or who have dependents to care for, can be free to do so while those who do not can continue to prepare meals. This may mean some redeployment to different schools in council areas to make sure each kitchen has a realistic number of staff to meet demand. This could be difficult if staff do not have a reliable transport system to use but is surmountable, particularly if effort is given to redeploy staff to their closest kitchen, whether in a school or other available facility.
- As a secondary staffing measure restaurants, bars and pubs will also have qualified catering staff currently unable to work. Meeting staffing demand should not be a significant challenge.
- Council staff from suspended services such as libraries, leisure centres and schools themselves could be redeployed to help with distribution and delivery. These staff will hold PVG scheme memberships, negating potential safeguarding issues with delivering food directly to children, particularly when some older children will be at home alone during the day
- The Royal Mail has offered the UK Government its services as an additional emergency service. RM has a fleet of vehicles and staff with deep local knowledge and could supplement local authority resource in both the transportation of staff and the delivery of meals
To deliver food does not require a PVG check. PVG checks are for those:
- With caring responsibilities
- teaching or supervising children and/or protected adults
- providing a personal services to children and/or protected adults
- working directly with children and/or protected adults
If delivery staff are driving to an address, dropping food of, and ringing a bell/buzzer etc to let the occupants know their food has arrived then they will not need to have direct or unsupervised contact with children. Deliveries and drivers should not be going into the homes where they are delivering to for their own health and personal safety.
Use of council staff with PVG membership as outlined previously does provide an additional safeguarding measure and should be seen as the default option.
Additional concerns & challenges:
- Children who are on free school meals and have underlying medical conditions such as celiac or diabetes:
As outlined previously, staff capacity will likely not be a pressing challenge, given the considerable drop in demand compared to normal school catering needs. Staff capacity should be ample for meeting specific dietary needs in the same way that those needs are met at present. As long as the supply chain is maintained, preparation and delivery to those with specific requirements can be achieved.
- Children who may not be eating some products due to religious or philosophical beliefs need to be accommodated as much as practically possible.
- Children in very remote areas.
This is where Royal Mail’s offer of assistance may prove critical, given their existing infrastructure in every area of the country. In more remote situations it may be more effective to deliver batches of frozen meals or other longer lasting options but this would require communication with parents/carers to confirm that there is capacity within the household, for example to freeze large batches of meals.
- Low uptake from those who are eligible at present.
We are aware of thousands of families who are eligible for free school meals but who do not take them up for a variety of reasons. Clear communications should go out to all families to ensure that those who are eligible but not currently taking up their entitlement can easily do so immediately.
Expanding Beyond Children & Young People
A system such as this could be expanded and/or merged with existing ‘Meals on Wheels’ services to meet any rising demand within the wider community, primarily from those in vulnerable groups who are self-isolating and do not otherwise have easy access to supplies of food. At this point the use of Royal Mail and other resources would be critical to meeting demand, as would a flexible approach from local authorities to accepting requests for support, rather than tying down capacity assessing need.
Expansion of the scheme to other vulnerable groups would also benefit from the economies of scale which will otherwise be lost from schools no longer having to cater for pupils who would normally pay.