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School meal debts cancelled

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
School meal debts cancelled

SCHOOL meal debts of £17,000 are to be wiped out to help parents that are struggling financially.
Dumfries and Galloway councillors this week agreed to write-off the debts that have been racked up by parents/carers unable to pay schools back for dinners.
Parents are initially sent a gentle reminder when dinner monies worth £9.50 are due, however further letters continue to be sent as debts mount, and sheriff officers can even be involved to reclaim debts further down the line.
Due to the cost of living crisis more and more parents have been unable to repay these school dinner debts, and the figure owed stood at £17,416 in mid June.
Lochar Councillor Tracey Little tabled a motion at Tuesday’s full council meeting calling for these debts to scrapped due to the cost of living crisis, and gave an emotive speech to fellow elected members.
She said: “Parents often go without food to ensure that their children can eat, but almost a quarter of our children go hungry at times, despite the sacrifices of their parents make.
“Stratospheric energy bills are completely wiping out incomes for low income households.
“Parent are handing out almost two thirds of their income for housing costs, making the risk of children going hungry very, very real indeed.
“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is warning energy may become a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Is food heading the same way?
“What if you can’t even access a meal in school?
“Food poverty and its effects on children is a matter of grave concern.
“This debt proves there are a lot of people who need assistance.”
Councillor Archie Dryburgh, leader of the Labour Group, responded by saying every member of his group is “very supportive” of the motion.
The move received support from all political parties. Conservative councillors Ivor Hyslop and Malcolm Johnstone said it was “the right thing to do”, but expressed concerns that some people who don’t need the extra support will abuse the system, taking away from those who need it most.
Councillor Little responded: “We’ve got poverty, we’ve got a cost of living crisis, we’ve got hungry children – but part of the argument goes, ‘oh, there’ll be people milking the system’.
“That is a minute amount of people. The majority of these people are needing something. If the odd person slips through, that’s not what we should be focusing on, we should be focusing on the fact that our children should not be hungry.”
All councillors agreed to support the motion and clear the debts. A further report on the matter will be brought to a future council meeting.