More than £1 million worth of school meal debt has been racked up by hard-up parents and families across Scotland, according to new research.
Worryingly, researchers have said that the scale of school meal debt represents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the true scale of child poverty and financial hardship in Scotland.
A report on the subject has been produced by the Aberlour children’s charity and seen by the Guardian, with concerns growing particularly around the issue of hunger among Scottish schoolchildren.
Notably, the £1 million worth of school meal debt that is now known to be outstanding across the country can only relate to children in their final years of primary school because meals are provided free of charge to pupils in their first five years of school.
The report from Aberlour outlines just how commonplace it has become for children in Scottish schools to be unable to afford their meals at lunchtime and fall into debt as a consequence.
According to the Guardian, there are concerns also about the methods being used by local councils as they seek to retrieve what debts they’re owed by school pupils or their parents.
Morag Treanor, who wrote the Aberlour report and is a professor at the Heriot-Watt University, is quoted as saying that the approach to debt collecting that many council currently adopt is “like using a hammer to crack a nut”.
“Some local authorities refer it [their school meal debt] to their debt recovery services when it reaches £10,” she said.
Ms Treanor’s report highlights the point that a growing number of relatively low-income but working families are being denied an entitlement to free school meals but struggling consistently to cover the resulting costs on behalf of their children.
Aberlour as an organisation has called for politicians in Edinburgh to pursue a policy of providing free school meals to children of all ages and right across the country.
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