By Democrat reporter
Parents in West Dunbartonshire have run up £14,500 of debt from unpaid school meals, according to a reply to a Freedom of Information request (designed by the Government to keep embarrassing information quiet) which revealed a staggering £1.1million is owed across of Scotland.
The Dumbarton Reporter points out that every child at a council-run school is entitled to free meals in the first three years of education. Pupils continue to receive lunches provided if their parents or carers receive certain benefits or tax credits. But everyone else has to pay.
Ross Greer MSP, pictured above, whose remit covers West Dunbartonshire, said: “We know that means-tested free school meals miss out far too many families who need them. The reality is that much of this £1.1 million is never going to be paid back, because families simply cannot afford it.
“If it is serious about closing the attainment gap between our richest and poorest pupils, the Scottish Government should follow the example of Finland by providing all school-age children with access to a free, nutritious breakfast and lunch, including during school holidays.
“The first step towards that would be having councils writing off this frankly astonishing and growing debt.”
West Dunbartonshire is in the process of rolling-out a cashless payments system which would allow parents to pay in advance for school meals online.
No pupils will go hungry at lunchtime however, as they are still provided with food, even if they are already in debt, or don’t have the means to pay.
A spokeswoman for West Dunbartonshire Council, where some council officers know how to eat well, said: “West Dunbartonshire Council has invested significantly in recent years to increase the number of children and young people eligible for free school meals beyond national requirements.
“As a result, 80 per cent of school meals received by pupils in primary schools and 50 per cent received in secondary schools are provided free of charge.
“No child ever goes without a meal, and parents are offered support to manage any outstanding debt.”
However, that’s the spin. The actuality, according to Sam Paton, is this: “If you don’t sign up to Parent Pay, there’s no alternative but for kids to pay for school dinners. Only pack lunches.”
The mean-spirited SNP leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, and his colleagues on the Council administration, have decreed therefore is that if you don’t have your dinner money, there is no warm food coming your way via a school dinner.
Our invitation to the Council to comment was turned down because they claim we distort things in order to make them look incompetent, which is not difficult. It’s exactly what they themselves have attempted to do here and failed yet again.
It’s also no distortion to report that pupils who cannot afford school dinners are being asked to pay large sums of money to go on holiday with the school, it’s the truth.