More actions are needed to ensure that children from low-income families do not go hungry during the holidays, according to a report.
The Commission on Poverty and Inequality is calling for a cash benefit to be introduced throughout Scotland.
Many councils now run schemes to provide free meals for children during school holidays. However, the layout varies from area to area.
Poverty advocates have always worried that free school meals are in fact a benefit that is only available for part of the year.
They warned that during school holidays some children may go hungry – or some parents may be left without, so that their children are well fed.
The commission was asked by the Scottish government to look at how poverty could be tackled. However, it is independent of the government.
Their report proposes to pay a benefit during school holidays, which would be at least equivalent to the cost of school meals.
The argument is that a benefit would help ensure greater consistency throughout Scotland and would ensure that those who did not wish to participate in the current schemes would not lose.
"School holidays represent a quarter of the year, so it's no surprise that they can create significant pressures for Scotland's poorest families in finance, food, playtime, social isolation and maternity.
"Vacation brings additional costs and challenges for families already under pressure, particularly during the six-week summer vacation and Christmas."
Provision of the Council
Free school meals are seen as a vital benefit for the rest of the year but are, in fact, withdrawn during school holidays as families face the most financial pressures.
Many councils – often in areas where there is greater concern about the effect of child poverty – now have so-called "holiday hunger" schemes.
Some provide meals at events and activities for school students while on vacation.
These are paid for by the councils themselves.
The North Lanarkshire Council has recently become the first in the UK to start offering free meals to eligible children 365 days a year.
Commission members have visited several of these schemes this year to find out more.
The report argues that there is a need for greater coordination and consistency across Scotland.
- The Scottish government, the Cosla council corps and local authorities must work together to adopt a strategic approach to developing and funding a coordinated package of school holidays.
- Build on existing services and provide holiday clubs to ensure that "nutritious and culturally appropriate food" is available to all children from low-income families
Their report says: "The Scottish government should also seek to introduce additional monetary benefits during the holiday periods for those who are eligible for the award of school clothes.
"Existing mechanisms, such as the granting of school clothes, should be considered as a way to deliver this.
"Financial transfers may be particularly important for families with older children who are not eligible or do not wish to attend many of the holiday programs offered, and the amount must be set at a level corresponding at least to the equivalent costs of school meals. consideration should be given to how much the payments should be and when they should be provided. "
The report does not indicate what the total cost of that benefit might be or the exact level at which it should be defined.
It appeals to the government to identify someone who assumes a policy of coordinating functions related to school holidays.
It also urges local authorities to take responsibility for the strategic coordination of action around school holidays in their area, and for the provision of holiday clubs in particular.
The local government organization Cosla is in discussions with the Scottish government on how they can work together to help those on low incomes during the holidays and out of school hours.
Counselor Stephen McCabe, a spokesperson for Children and Young People, said: "In general terms, local authorities work closely with their partners to deal with child poverty. Their work is often bold and innovative and there is a growing understanding of what works.
"There is growing support for those with lower incomes, with more local authorities involved in the cost of school day initiatives.
"We know from our own data that the vast majority of local authorities provide some form of provision outside school hours for children and young people living in poverty."
He added, "While food is a part of this, it is also focused on activities and the support and involvement of parents. This is largely funded by the local authorities themselves at a time when there are significant budget pressures in essential services ".
Pressures in families
Charities working in the field emphasized the need for urgent action.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Task Force, said: "We know that families face a lot of pressures and extra costs during school holidays around fun and rewarding food, day care and access. many children and parents' holidays are time for extra stress, not new fun opportunities.
"Lack of adequate income is the key driver of these additional pressures, so it is certain that raising household incomes further has to be at the heart of any approach to supporting families during school holidays, along with a joint approach to reducing the costs of childcare, and holiday activities.
"We welcome the Scottish government's existing commitment to an income supplement, but families can not wait until 2022 and new ideas on strengthening financial support for families now can only be welcomed."
A Scottish government spokesman said: "We thank the Commission for its detailed report and we will carefully consider its findings.
"The cuts in UK government welfare are having an adverse impact on many families and we are investing more than £ 125 million this year to mitigate these impacts and protect those on low incomes.
"Our Fair Food Fund also promotes worthy solutions to food insecurity and we are already committed to raising this figure to £ 3.5 million next year – £ 2 million will be concentrated on school holidays.
"In addition, local authorities also have the flexibility to provide children's meals out of date and some have chosen to use this flexibility during school holidays by providing holiday lunch clubs."
There are previous examples of Scottish government and councils working together to try to support low-income families.
Recently, the minimum level of school apparel scholarships has been standardized to help ensure greater consistency across the country, although councils are free to offer additional support if they wish.