Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill
The UNISON Scotland response to the Communities
Committee regarding the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition)
Scottish Parliament Communities Committee
for Evidence: Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland)
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to submit
a response to the Communities Committee regarding the Schools
(Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill. We are Scotland's
largest public sector trade union representing over 150,000 members
working in the Scottish Health Service, local government, utilities,
further and higher education and other public sector providers,
as well as in some of Scotland's largest private sector areas
including energy. A large number of UNISON members are involved
in delivering school meal services and participate in a number
of successful initiatives promoting nutritional standards and
increased take up of school meals, particularly in the Hungry
for Success and other related initiatives.
UNISON Scotland submitted a response in August 2006
to the Scottish Executive's consultation on the, then, School
(Nutrition and Health) (Scotland) Bill. That submission reiterated
the strong case for universal free school meals.
Amendment enabling councils to introduce free
In this response for the Communities Committee we
repeat that we would prefer an amendment to provide for a universal
entitlement to free school meals for all primary and secondary
school children in Scotland. To that end we also support Frances
Curran MSP's Education (School Meals etc.) (Scotland)
Bill to introduce free school meals in primary schools. Her proposed
legislation received 96% support in the consultation carried out
last year. We contend this shows the strong public demand in Scotland
for action to improve our children's health - action which goes
beyond the aims of the Scottish Executive's Bill.
However, we propose that a major contribution to
improving the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland)
Bill would be an amendment to enable councils to introduce free
school meals in their area. Not only do we believe that this would
benefit children where local authorities do introduce free meals,
but it would effectively allow the creation of ‘pilots' which
in our view would provide the evidence of the health benefits.
The experience of Hull City Council shows how dramatic the results
can be in a short space of time and we believe Scottish councils
should be given the powers to introduce this where they feel it
would play a part in tackling health issues such as childhood
obesity and diabetes as well as the health impact of poverty and
The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition)
The Committee has asked for written evidence on
the general principles of the Bill. Our response shall encompass
each of those they listed:
General comments on the objectives of the Bill
UNISON Scotland supports the aims and objectives
and has been a strong supporter of the Hungry for Success programme.
We believe that health statistics and the generally poor diet
in Scotland demonstrate the need for urgent and innovative action
on children's eating habits. The Bill's measures will make a major
difference even if they do not at this stage go as far as we would
A key outcome should be to initiate a culture of
healthy eating which will have long-term benefits for the health
of the nation. The Scottish Executive has a number of commitments
to improving nutritional standards in the public sector. However,
to ensure they are implemented in a cross-cutting way across all
departments, UNISON wants to see a ‘Food for Good' programme of
action across the sector, with schools a key component. This would
involve nutritional standards being set for all public sector
provision of food, with regulators responsible for ensuring compliance.
This would cover schools, hospitals, prisons, care homes etc.
and would build on the work already underway in schools and in
the health service by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. UNISON
SCOTLAND'S ‘Food for Good' Charter, launched in 2003, urged targets
on the NHS for sourcing organic and fair trade food as well as
dealing with concerns about privatisation of hospital catering
and the impact on the quality of food available to patients.
The aim of the new ‘Food for Good' programme would
be to contribute to improving the nation's health and to raising
the awareness of diet as a key factor in health improvement. As
part of the ‘Food for Good' initiative, UNISON Scotland urges
action to source public sector food locally, with ideally an organic
option on every menu. Local authorities such as East Ayrshire
have been successfully providing organic and local food for some
schools within EU Procurement rules. There is no reason why this
kind of approach cannot be rolled out nationwide. The public sector
spend on food in Scotland is £85m annually and this leverage can
be used to pressure suppliers to dramatically increase the availability
of sustainable food. We then have the double benefit of this approach
being both healthier and better for the environment. The food
sector can make a big contribution to action on climate change.
Research published in September 2006 by WWF Scotland found that
the Hungry for Success initiative can reduce the Ecological Footprint
(environmental impact) of school food by 40%.
Another very important point, which is fundamental
to the provision of healthy food in schools, is the need for a
commitment to a properly resourced and staffed service. This requires
fair pay and conditions and proper training and the absolute principle
that children's health comes before commercial factors.
It is also essential that if there are impediments
to promoting children's health which are linked to the Private
Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnership schemes, then
these are overcome. Clearly we need to ensure schools have suitable
dining areas, kitchens and equipment to allow staff to cook fresh
produce on site and serve it in a positive dining environment.
If PFI/PPP schemes do not allow for this, intervention is needed.
We highlighted in our August 06 submission on the proposed Bill
that the Turning the Tables - Transforming School Meals
report for the Department of Education and Skills south of the
border warned that: "The existence of long-term contracts
cannot be allowed to adversely affect the health of pupils in
Similarly one of the recommendations in the Hungry
for Success report was that "in any Best Value review the
role of the school meal service as part of the education and health
strategies should be taken into account. It should not be considered
simply as a commercial trading activity."
Local authorities and schools - and the wider public
sector - must also be able to purchase food based on quality and
nutritional content, without price being the over-riding factor.
Wider issues, in terms of sustainable development and climate
change, include sourcing fresh healthy food locally. All of these
must be considered in efforts to improve health, along with related
factors such as physical exercise and the provision of playing
fields (something which has also been adversely affected by the
The duty to ensure that all schools are health-promoting
UNISON Scotland supports this duty and the involvement
of Scottish schools in the European Network of Health Promoting
Schools. The World Health Organisation, which developed the Health
Promoting School concept, says Health Promoting Schools focus
on: caring for oneself and others, creating conditions conducive
to health; making healthy decisions and taking control of life
circumstances; preventing leading causes of death, disease and
disability; influencing health-related behaviours through knowledge,
skills and attitudes; building the capacity for peace, education,
social justice, sustainable development and more.
These are laudable objectives and fit well with
the whole school approach and a partnership between the school
population and the wider community. This can only be beneficial
to the development of a culture of healthy eating. East Ayrshire's
example of Hungry for Success showed the greatest uptake of new
healthier school meals was in schools where the whole school approach
was adopted enthusiastically.
Nutritional requirements for food and drink supplied
We support enabling Ministers to set statutory nutritional
standards. We would encourage in this respect the exploration
of locally sourced and organic food in meeting nutritional requirements.
A short-term expert working group will set the standards for schools.
We believe the standards should be reviewed regularly in consultation
with education authorities, parents, health boards, trade unions
representing educational and support staff as well as school pupils.
The application of nutritional requirements
The Bill applies to state schools. Councils considering
placing a child in an independent school or arranging private
nursery provision must have regard to whether the establishment
complies with the nutritional requirements. We do not see why
the statutory standards should not also apply to private schools
and nurseries. We have no objection to the exemptions covering,
for example, Christmas lunches, school trips or community events
held by third parties on school premises.
Provision of food and drink (within defined nutritional
standards) at any time of the day, either free of charge or subject
to a charge
We support the provision of healthy food, drinks
and snacks at other times of the day than the main school meal.
We applaud initiatives by a number of local authorities which
are already, providing, for example, breakfast clubs, fresh fruit
schemes and free milk.
Given that the Bill enables local authorities to
provide free breakfasts to all pupils, we do not see why an amendment
could not enable councils to provide free school lunches to all
pupils if they wish to. For some councils in areas of high eligibility
for school meals this may be cost effective (due to no longer
needing administrative systems to charge for meals and to distinguish
those who qualify for free meals), although we do not believe
that that should be the motivation.
Promotion of school meals, in particular free
While we support the duty on councils to promote
school meals, we argue that the best way to promote them is to
make them free. To support this we would point to the evidence
of Hull City Council's Eat Well Do Well initiative and their innovative
free school meals pilot in primary schools. Communities Committee
members will have heard about this scheme. In 2004 Hull was the
first local authority in England to use the ‘power to innovate'
(receiving special permission from the Secretary of State) to
offer every primary school child a free healthy school meal. For
a variety of reasons, they introduced the healthy meals before
the free meals and their example shows very well what the impact
is of making meals free.
As members will be aware, many factors influence
whether children choose to eat school meals. One fact planners
have to address, as was experienced in Hull, is that sometimes
introducing healthier foods can lead to a drop in the numbers
taking school meals. Among the many possible reasons for this,
we would highlight two: pupils being more used to the previous
food on offer and resistant to change; and the availability of
less healthy, but ‘popular' or ‘junk' food being available on
or near the school grounds and/or in local shops. This is one
reason why UNISON supports action to prevent junk food being sold
in or near to schools.
What happened in Hull was that average school meal
take-up rates fell from 48% to 36% across the city. However, once
the healthy meals were made free, take-up rates rose quickly and
are now an average 64%, with some schools at over 90% and one
at 98% almost since the start of the three year scheme. An initial
evaluation by Hull University concluded: "Approximately 64%
of children currently take up the offer of free healthy school
dinners. This is an outstanding achievement…The EWDW team have
shown through a variety of measures how they have increased this
take up…Undoubtedly the offer of a free meal is an important element
in this achievement."
Last month the Prime Minister praised the initiative.
Asked by a local MP in the House of Commons to congratulate the
Hull achievements in the light of recent obesity figures, Tony
Blair said: "I am delighted to congratulate them, and I am
sure that it is an important part of the public health drive in
Hull and elsewhere in the country. The reason
it is important is that, as we extend community facilities, as
we see changes in school dinners and in competitive sport in schools—which
has increased to 80 per cent. from the 50 per cent. that we inherited—and
as we are able to provide greater local community services in
which public health is a major part, the general health of the
nation will be improved, which will reduce the long-term costs
in our health care system."
As Mr Blair identified, we believe that this investment
in children's health now will in the long-term be a financial
saving, as well as vastly improving quality of life.
In addition to the experience of Hull, a Dundee
University study in 2005 showed the flaw in Ministers' preference
for ‘targeting' free school meals. Existing eligibility criteria
mean that they do not reach all families in need. The study demonstrated
that universal entitlement is "the only mechanism for consistently
providing welfare to all low income households". Researchers
Carlo Morelli and Paul Seaman also said in Universal versus
Targeted Benefits: The distributional effects of free school meals:
"It is hard to conclude that the current system represents
anything other than a wholly inadequate method of reducing child
poverty." The evidence from Hull shows that a large number
of pupils who would not previously have been eligible for free
school meals have been eating the free healthy meals.
Finally, on this point, UNISON Scotland believes
that the high support in consultation responses for Frances Curran's
proposed free school meals Bill, at 96%, demonstrates the fact
that this is a popular policy in Scotland and that it is widely
seen as being a common sense measure. If members cannot support
this, we would ask them to, at a minimum, support our proposal
for enabling powers.
Protection of the identity of pupils receiving
free school meals
Evidence shows that some pupils feel a connection
between the stigma of free school meals and bullying. UNISON supports
measures to ensure anonymity. However, these do not always work.
Again, such measures would not be necessary if we
were to provide free meals for all school children. Doing so would:
remove the stigma (and related social and
psychological impact) of only those on the lowest incomes
being entitled to free school meals, thereby increasing
promote the concept of equality of opportunity,
social inclusion and remove a recognised potential cause
of bullying, or simple, yet distressing, ‘feeling of difference'
which affects children's self esteem
fit with the fundamental principle of universal
welfare services free at the point of use
benefit families currently caught in the
poverty trap of just missing out on qualifying for free
UNISON urges members of the Committee to give their
support to the principle of universal free school meals for all
Scottish school children. However, if members do not feel able
to commit to that at this stage we at least ask that they support
the introduction of an amendment to this Bill, enabling councils
to introduce free school meals in their areas.
We would also like to see healthy nutritious meals
in schools as one part of a wider ‘Food for Good' initiative across
the public sector which we believe would play a major part in
improving Scotland's health.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835