THE Scottish Government has urged local authorities to “do all they can” to help families struggling to pay for their children’s school meals, following shocking reports from the Aberlour children’s charity.

As reported in the Guardian this week, new research from Aberlour reveals that more than £1 million is owed by families across Scotland unable to afford their children’s school meals.

Morag Treanor, the report’s author and a professor at the institute for social policy, housing and equalities research at Heriot-Watt University, has also warned that the £1 million figure is just the tip of the iceberg, saying there is “unquantified levels of hidden hunger in secondary schools”.

While pupils in the first five years of primary school in Scotland receive free school meals, the total of £1,032,500 identified by Aberlour is primarily owed by pupils in their final primary year.

The Aberlour report calls upon the Scottish Government to immediately implement its commitment to universal free school meal entitlement for all primary classes, and for a similar entitlement for secondary pupils to be put in force before the end of this parliament. Additionally, the charity has advocated increasing the free school meal threshold in Scotland to £25,190, and for such increases to occur annually in line with inflation.

Ahead of this year's local elections, the STUC also endorsed the expansion of universal free school meals to all pupils.

Aberlour’s head of policy and participation Martin Canavan commented: “The Scottish Government can do that through devolved powers. Far fewer families are eligible for free school meals now than they were 20 years ago when the thresholds were first introduced, despite the fact that in the last 10 years we’ve seen child poverty significantly rise.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson told the National: “Cost of living rises are putting a huge strain in some families and they are facing unforeseen challenges.

“Pupils in primary one to five at publicly funded schools already benefit from universal free school lunches during term time, as well as eligible pupils within other age groups, saving families on average £400 per child per year.

“We will continue to work with our partners in local authorities to plan for the expansion of free school meal provision.”

However, the spokesperson added: “Councils have the power to make discretionary offers of free school meals to families, where they are experiencing financial hardship due to exceptional circumstances, who do not meet the regular eligibility criteria.

“We would also urge local authorities to do all they can to resolve any payment issues.”