Parents face heat or eat decisions

Dr Mary Smith, director of education with Midlothian Council.
Dr Mary Smith, director of education with Midlothian Council.

Parents of school children face “heat or eat” decisions during the holidays, according to an education chief.

Dr Mary Smith, director of education with Midlothian Council, said it had provided 21,000 free meals to children during a summer holiday programme this year.

And she warned that many families faced tough decisions about whether to be warm or fed, particularly in the winter months.

She said: “It is really important that we recognise our youngsters are facing this and know it is ‘heat or eat’, especially coming into winter for some of our families.”

Dr Smith’s comments came as she reported to the council’s cabinet on work being undertaken to tackle child poverty in the county.

She said work was being carried out to increase the uptake of free school meals, adding that because younger pupils were entitled to them parents did not register and missed out on other benefits such as free uniforms, milk and funding for trips.

Her report added: “Increasing enrolment will benefit children living in poverty and also provides an additional £1,200 of PEF (pupil equity funding) per pupil.”

Dr Smith said that research was being carried out into free school meals which would also look at the way they are perceived and barriers to uptake.

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) said: “It is ridiculous that in 2018 we are having to do this but it is heartening to see that we are making a lot of good progress in ensuring families are getting what they are entitled to.”