As Scotland emerges from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the virus continues to affect the lives of children, young people, their families and communities across the nation. Many households in Scotland still struggle to access healthy and nutritious food, with more children and young people in the UK affected by food insecurity than before the pandemic. Free school meals continue to be a lifeline for many families, ensuring children and young peoples’ access to healthy and nutritious food, supporting their learning and development.
As of last month, the provision of free school meals to P4 primary pupils across Scotland marks a further step towards Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) provision across Scottish primary schools and Early Years education by 2022. The recent Good School Food discussion paper from this Working Group highlighted clear support for universal free school meals provision, both in and out of term time, and this was again echoed this week as the stand-out recommendation in the ‘Feeding our Future’ Peas Please report into the state of UK school food.
We welcome the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2021/22 which confirms their commitment to bring the ‘Good Food Nation Bill’ into Scot’s law, ensuring access to healthy, nutritious and sustainably sourced food for all, and contributing to the delivery of a fairer, greener Scotland, along with their consultation on the development of local food strategies. Alongside the provision of UFSMs to all school age children, this is a critical step on Scotland’s path towards tackling child poverty and food insecurity and enshrining a right to food in law.
All school food stakeholders across Scotland’s local authorities have been working incredibly hard to ensure the delivery of good quality and healthy meals despite significant challenges: Food supply challenges, stock shortages and price increases have not only been affecting supermarket shelves and consumers, but also public food provision, directly impacting on the meals provided to our children and young people. Existing shortages in school meal staff have been further exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, with recruitment becoming ever more difficult. Serving school meals to more pupils than before amidst COVID-19 guidelines and procedures represents a challenge which many councils are working hard to overcome.
These challenges highlight that now is the time to invest in universal school food provision which can ensure not only universal access to healthy and nutritious meals, but also strengthen local and sustainable supply chains, reinforce the focus on healthy and sustainable food across the whole school setting, support and strengthen the school catering profession and school food networks across the nation, and ensure that the voice of children and their families takes centre-stage in the roll-out of universal school food provision. With global attention turning to Glasgow as it hosts COP26 later this year and more and more Scottish councils signing the Glasgow Food & Climate Declaration in recognition that a third of greenhouse gases come from the food system, public sector food in Scotland should be an exemplar to others across the world for how a sustainable food systems approach could be taken to help achieve a green recovery. Public food must reflect the best of public values and spearhead the transformation of our broken food system towards a focus on universal access, health and sustainability.
The provision of healthy, nutritious and sustainably and locally sourced school meals has never been more important. It is time for school meals to be considered not as a cost but as an investment in the future of our children and young people.
Published 20 September 2021
Note to Editors:
Organisations who support this are:
ALLIANCE (Health and Social Care alliance Scotland)
The Food Foundation
Land Workers' Alliance
Soil Association Scotland
Sustainable Food Places
University of Edinburgh Business School
Zero Waste Scotland