Concerns have been raised that only half of secondary school pupils in Dundee eligible for free school meals are taking them up.
A report which went before Dundee City Council’s children and families services committee highlighted that just 50% of children who are eligible for free school meals in secondary schools are making use of the provision.
Secondary school pupils are eligible for free school meals if they or their families claim certain benefits.
The low uptake sparked concern from councillors, with one labelling the low uptake “extremely worrying”.
Why are so few making use of the provision?
The report, which went before the committee this week, outlined officers’ disappointment with the low uptake of free school meals in secondary schools and highlighted the potential knock-on impacts on finance for struggling families.
Addressing the committee, councillor Steven Rome – who represents the North East ward – labelled the numbers as “extremely worrying” and urged officials to find ways to increase the uptake.
He said: “I aware that this is an issue but this is extremely worrying given that we are in a cost of living crisis.
“The sooner we can boost the number of people who are aware of their right to free school meals, the better.”
The report also highlighted that many young people did not consider that they had a positive enough experience at lunchtimes and, with the proximity of takeaways and supermarkets to many schools, were mainly choosing fast food options elsewhere.
Audrey May, executive director of the children and families services, noted that feedback from pupils had suggested they had “voted with their feet” and chose shops who provided “very cheap food”.
Labour councillor Kevin Keenan said: “For me it’s understandable that the uptake won’t be good and in some cases it might be about young people trying to be more adult.
“It’s always worthwhile trying to put the word out and trying to encourage the take up.”
Councillor Kevin Keenan
“Given the price of electricity, gas, fuel costs and all the rest of it, there might be an increase (in the uptake).
“It’s always worthwhile trying to put the word out and trying to encourage the take up, especially given where things are with household budgets being stretched.”
What is being done to boost uptake?
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: “Our secondary schools work hard to raise awareness of free school meal entitlement and we engage with families around these issues as well.
“Aside from the free entitlement we also stress that the meals provided in our dining hall are healthy and nutritionally balanced. We are always look at developing menus with our partner providers Tayside Contracts.”