Last week, Dumfries and Galloway Council announced they were expanding the options for free school meal delivery. Parents can now choose to have food packs delivered, collect food packs from a school childcare hub or receive a direct payment of £17.50 per week per child to buy food. But some people have expressed fears that the most vulnerable children will still miss out – if parents choose to spend the money on other things.
The announcement on the council’s Facebook page attracted 95 comments, including: “Certain parents will pocket the cash, others who struggle will use it for bills and at the end of the day the kids will still go without.” and “If people need food they’ll take it, giving people cash is allowing liberties to be taken.”
Defending the move, a council spokesman this week explained the direct payment option fits with the recommendations of the Scottish Child Poverty Action Group, which made representation to all councils to consider introducing direct payments to families receiving free school meals. And he said: “The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one of the main research bodies on poverty, states that putting cash direct to families is one of single biggest levers to address child poverty.
“There is no evidence available that supports concerns of inappropriate use of direct funding and the Child Poverty Action Group has challenged assumptions that additional family income isn’t used appropriately.”
He also commented that the option provides dignity and choice for families. And explained that the option of food vouchers was considered but access to supermarkets in rural areas is limited and food vouchers can cause stigma for families.
Offering assurances, the spokesman added: “Our council has checks in place to ensure that our most vulnerable families are supported and the list of families receiving direct payments is shared with social work services each week.”