School Meals Bill
UNISON Scotland's response to the
School Meals (Scotland) Bill
UNISON Scotland fully supports the aims of the School
Meals (Scotland) Bill to provide a free nutritious meal for all
pupils in local authority schools.
We believe that this Bill:
Tackles poverty and social exclusion.
Supplies a welfare service free at the point
Addresses poor nutrition standards in Scotland
and related health problems for children today and in later
Addresses related socio-economic implications
of poor diet.
Provides children with sustenance that is conducive
to learning, attending, and behaving well in school.
Removes the stigma of free meals, and helps
families not entitled to school meals but on low incomes.
Demonstrates government joined up thinking by
creating additional employment opportunities, that are likely
to be part-time, and appeal to women / others with caring responsibilities.
Establishes a child's right to a free, healthy
and nutritious meal.
Promotes positive social interaction for all
children by the event of sharing a meal with others.
We welcome the provisions of the Bill to allow Scottish
Ministers to formulate a definition of "nutritious meal".
However, we would wish to see school pupils themselves being consulted
on these regulations, along with relevant trade unions.
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment
on the Private Member's School Meals (Scotland) Bill. UNISON is
the largest trade union in Scotland, with over 140,000 members working
in a range of public services. We have members who are currently
involved in delivering school meals in Scotland's schools. As a
trade union that takes a holistic approach to representing our members
and their families, we have a keen interest in a Bill that seeks
to address issues of health, nutrition, poverty and social exclusion.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's views on
the School Meals (Scotland) Bill.
Tackling poverty and social exclusion
UNISON believes the provision of a healthy mid-day
meal is a positive step towards addressing food poverty and social
exclusion, ensuring that all children do receive at least one decent
meal a day. The inclusiveness of providing the benefit for all,
removes stigma, and promotes the concept of equality of opportunity
to children from a young age.
UNISON's study of school meals *, published March
2002, found that the price of school meals across the UK has risen
faster than inflation, which clearly impacts upon take up of meals.
The price of school meals increased by 5.6% in primary schools and
3.6% in secondary schools over the past six years, whilst inflation
increased by only 1.7%. Although a UK-wide survey, the report revealed
important statistics on Scottish schools. School meal prices were
the highest in Edinburgh at £1.85 (secondary) and £1.65 (primary),
and in secondary schools in Aberdeenshire (£1.70) and primary schools
in North Ayrshire (£1.50). Other Scottish authorities are able to
provide meals at much lower prices: Dumfries and Galloway meals
are 95p (primary) and £1.00 (secondary), and in Glasgow £1.10 (primary
and secondary). The provision of free school meals for all pupils
would end this massive price variation, ensuring decent food is
available to all children, regardless of which local authority they
are in or ability to pay.
Supplies a welfare service free at the point of
UNISON supports the fundamental principle of the provision
of universal welfare services free at the point of use. The NHS,
state education and many local authority services are examples of
welfare services provided universally free at the point of use and
paid for through tax and National Insurance.
In Scotland, UNISON has welcomed a number of recent
initiatives that have been provided universally free at the point
The Scottish Executive's free personal care
for the elderly scheme.
Scottish Executive's decision to give pensioners
free off-peak bus travel across Scotland from October 2002.
Glasgow City Council's free breakfast clubs
for all children who attend their schools.
Glasgow City Council provision of free use of
swimming pools to all under 18s.
Initiatives provided on a universal basis have proved
successful in achieving a high take up, are stigmatise less and
hit the target more effectively. Universal benefits have a higher
take up rate, for example Child Benefit has over a 98% take up.
The costs of administration for universal benefits are lower - Child
Benefit is only 2%, whereas it is over 10% for the targeted income
support and over 30% for the social fund.
Means tested systems involve complex rules and complicated
and expensive administration systems. They create poverty traps
and work disincentives. Currently only children of parents in receipt
of income support and income-based job seekers allowance are eligible
for a free school meal in the middle of the day. Children from low
income working families and children from families receiving Working
Families Tax Credit are not eligible for free school meals. The
Executive's own statistics show that only 1 in 5 children in Scotland
qualifies for free school meals at present.
Tackling Stigma and Ending the Poverty Trap
The Scottish Executive has confirmed that 16 % of
pupils in Scotland took free school meals in January 2000. That
means that twenty per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals
don't take them up. Stigma is a major reason for this. The Executive
recognised this when Deputy Minister for Education Nicol Stephen
said, "children need to feel able to take free school meals
without fear of social stigma" (Executive Press Release 19.11.2001).
The Child Poverty Action Group has reported how children
themselves feel stigmatised if they are entitled to a free school
meal, where in order to receive this they are differentiated from
paying pupils by: standing in a different queue, having a different
coloured ticket, being on a different list, or receiving their meal
last. Many local authorities have also recognised the issue of stigma
- and the possibilities of bullying between children over meals
status - by introducing cash-less schemes with swipe cards. However,
experience has shown that it is difficult to get away from the fact
that children receiving free meals have less credit on their swipe
cards and children are still aware of the differences.
UNISON agrees that the provision of universal free
school meals removes stigma altogether, and addresses the poverty
trap of low incomes families who just miss out under the current
Nutrition and Health.
Scotland's reputation as the sick-man of Europe is
well known, along with Glasgow's as the heart-attack capital. UNISON
very much supports the Executive's initiatives to turn around Scotland's
health problems. We believe that the provision of a nutritious meal
for all children is intrinsic to strategies to improve public health.
The Child Poverty Action Group has compiled some key
facts and figures supporting the case:
Scottish Office 1996 report Scotland's Health.
A Challenge to Us All concluded: "the usual Scottish
diet consumed by children is also that which would now be expected
to be conducive to the development of adult chronic disease".
Poor families spend proportionately more of
their income on food: 21% compared to national average of 17%.
Cheaper foods are generally the least nutritious,
often fatty, oily, high in salt and sugar.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Poverty
and Social Exclusion 2000 survey found that 9% of "poor
children" didn't have fresh fruit or vegetables daily and
21 % failed to have 2 substantive meals daily.
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of 4-18
year olds found that three-quarters of the Scottish Children
did not eat green leafy vegetables during the 7 day recording
period, only a third ate salad vegetables, and a quarter ate
citrus fruits (Gregory et al. National Diet and Nutrition
Survey: young people aged 4 to 18. 2000).
Dental problems such as tooth decay and erosion
are a result of frequent sugar intake and consumption of carbonated
drinks. Pitts' Scottish Health Boards' Dental Epidemiological
Programme (2000) reports that tooth decay in 5 year olds
in Scotland is considerably higher than for the UK as a whole.
UNISON has concluded that the current state of Scotland's
diet, particularly for young people, is so dire, that urgent action
is required. We are gravely concerned at the inevitable health consequences
that this will have on the Scottish population in later life, along
with the socio-economic implications of an unhealthy nation on employment,
GDP, the NHS, an ageing population and on other social provisions.
We believe that the most appropriate way of addressing the appalling
Scottish diet and its legacy is to provide healthy and nutritious
food to young people. The simplest and most obvious way to do this,
is the provision of a free school meal.
Implementing Nutritional Standards
UNISON supports the Bill's provisions for Scottish
Ministers to make regulations on the definitions of "nutritious
meal" and requiring milk and water to be made available to
accompany the meal. We recognise the importance of promoting milk
as an alternative to carbonated and sugary drinks, to develop healthy
bones in children as they are growing and in later life.
Nutrition standards in Scottish school meals have
declined since 1980 when the Education (Scotland) Act deregulated
school meals and removed nutritional standards. The guidance offered
in the Scottish Office's "Diet Action Plan Model Nutritional
Guidelines", only applies to pre-fives and primary school children
has not had enough impact to improve standards.
UNISON supported the Scottish Executive's move last
year to establish an expert panel to devise national nutritional
standards, improve the appeal of school meals and maximise the uptake
of free school meals. However, we believe that this action does
not go far enough in addressing stigma, or in looking at improving
Scotland's health for the future.
We agree with the Bill's provision that regulations
should be developed with representatives of education authorities,
Health Boards, and school boards. UNISON would like to see representatives
of trade unions (representing educational and support staff) included
in this consultation process, as well as pupils themselves. It is
essential that those at the front line in delivering the meals,
educating pupils, and the pupils consuming the food, should be involved
in consultations on what is "nutritious" and likely to
Ensuring that pupils will actually eat the meals provided
is a real challenge. However, we do not believe that this is sufficient
reason to dismiss the Bill. Nutritious food will have to appeal
to pupils, there will need to be an element of choice, and the development
of strategies to nurture children to understand food, experiment
with new types of food (such as unusual fruit and vegetables), and
support for pupils to choose a healthy diet.
Individual Dietary Needs
UNISON welcome's the Bill's provision to take account
of cultural, religious, special health and dietary needs of pupils.
It is important that pupils are provided with food that is suitable
for them, and respects their cultural, religious or health requirements.
Equally in the interests of good practice, where it is reasonably
practicable, food should be provided which meets the dietary needs
of pupils based on conscience, for example vegetarian diets.
Food For Thought
The benefits of providing a healthy midday meal free
to all children are not just those of improving physical health.
Children need adequate nutrition to concentrate and learn whilst
at school. Teachers have reported that since the advent of breakfast
clubs attendance at school has improved, and children are more responsive
and attentive. This has real benefits in the classroom as teachers
are able to focus on teaching, not crowd control, and pupils' receive
a better education. The introduction of nutritional free midday
meals for all pupils should have similar advantages.
In addition, it can be helpful for local communities
in reducing general nuisance and crime if all pupils stay in school
during the lunchtime break.
Creating Greater Capacity in the School Meals Sector.
Encouraging greater take up of school meals, so as
all children consume free school meals, will mean a substantial
increase in resources needed for delivery in many areas of Scotland.
An increase in personnel will be required to prepare and serve the
meals, and to supervise meal times.
UNISON views this as a positive outcome of the Bill,
demonstrating cross cutting initiatives of a Parliament focussing
on tackling ill health, poverty, social exclusion and unemployment.
This Bill will create employment opportunities, likely to be on
a part time basis and during the day time, which will be suitable
for people (predominantly women) who have caring responsibilities
outside of school hours. However, the Executive may wish to take
the opportunity to encourage non-traditional sections of the population
into this work, to get away from the stereotyping of "dinner
UNISON supports the view that this Bill is about children's
rights. Establishing the right of every child to be fed adequately
without fear of discrimination, stigma, lack of financial resources
or parental concern is a positive step. Providing a free nutritional
meal directly to school pupils puts the resources exactly where
they are required.
Promoting Positive Social Interaction for Children
We believe that the provision of universal free school
meals provides a positive social opportunity for children to sit
down with others, interact, converse with peers, and share food.
Free school meals could increase the level of basic social skills,
such as use of cutlery and table manners. In an age where more people
go for take away food, eat from burger bars, consume TV dinners
and junk food on the go, the positive interaction that can be gained
from sitting down to eat a meal with others is invaluable. This
experience is important for all children, irrespective of family
income. Pupils with parents working long hours are as likely to
miss out on the social gathering at meal time, as those from low
Providing pupils with a nutritious meal could also
counter the mass marketing and advertising campaigns children are
constantly bombarded with on TV, in local shops, magazine and billboards.
UNISON believes that it is important that children are aware of
alternative wholesome and tasty foods, to burgers, confectionery,
sugary cereals, crisps and fizzy drinks, which tend to be aggressively
promoted to young people. UNISON concludes that the issue of all
food in schools, including vending machines tuck shops and breakfast
clubs, must be debated with the impact of sponsorship and advertising
UNISON Scotland fully supports the School Meals Bill,
and hopes that the Scottish Parliament gives careful consideration
to the merits of the proposals as set out in the Bill. We believe
that this would be a worthwhile and timely provision, tackling poverty,
social exclusion, poor diet and health. At the same time it would
demonstrate a caring Scotland, nurturing its young people, and providing
for the future health and wellbeing of our nation.
* Please find attached: School Meals in the 21st
Century, A UNISON Report (March 2002) Commissioned by the Labour
Research Department, to be considered with this paper.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835