Heat or eat

Monday October 22nd 2018

Midlothian Council

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Parents of school children face “heat or eat” decisions during the holidays, according to an education chief.

Dr Mary Smith, director of education at Midlothian Council, said that in her local authority alone they had provided 21,000 free meals to children during a summer holiday programme this year.

And she warned that many families faced tough decisions about whether to be warm or fed, particularly in the winter months.

She said: “It is really important that we recognise our youngsters are facing this and know it is ‘heat or eat’, especially coming into winter for some of our families.”

Dr Smith’s comments came as she reported to the council’s cabinet on work being undertaken to tackle child poverty in the county.

She said that work was being carried out to increase the uptake of free school meals, adding that because younger pupils were entitled to the free meals parents did not register for them and missed out on other benefits such as free uniforms, milk and funding for trips.

Her report added: “Increasing enrolment will benefit children living in poverty and also provides an additional £1,200 of PEF (pupil equity funding) per pupil.”

Dr Smith said that research was being carried out into free school meals which would also look at the way they are perceived and barriers to uptake.

She said: “The findings of this research will inform how we can maximise enrolment and reduce the stigma associated with living in poverty.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead, cabinet spokesperson for education and children’s services, said: “It is ridiculous that in 2018 we are having to do this but it is heartening to see that we are making a lot of good progress in ensuring families are getting what they are entitled to.

“It is important, not knowing what you are entitled to is a real barrier.”

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