Claims for free school meal fall in Shetland islands despite increased need

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The number of pupils in the Shetland islands receiving free school meals, clothing grants or education maintenance allowances has fallen despite a growth in demand for food parcels, according to a report in the Shetland Times.

Figures released by Shetland Islands Council show the number of parents seeking assistance has dropped below the national average, prompting concern that some people are holding back for the fear of being stigmatised.

Less than five per cent of secondary pupils are getting free school meals, about a third of the national average of 15 per cent, according to data released by the council's Education and Families Committee.

Just under seven per cent of primary pupils have been claiming free meals, also a third of the national average and a record low for Shetland.

Take-up on clothing grants has dropped each year from 459 in 2010/11 to just 286 in 2014/15. Meanwhile, demand for the education maintenance allowance is down over the same period from a high of 147 in 2011/12 to 55 this year.

The figures were contained within a report on children's services performance measures for the three months up to the end of June.

They came against a backdrop of continuing austerity and a growth in demand for food parcels, the newspaper reported.

Helen Budge, director of children's services, was quoted as saying there was no indication the need for help had lessened, despite the drop in applications.

Speaking about clothing grants, she said some efforts had been made to contact previous applicants, but uptake had remained low. "We've done what we feel we can do to advertise the fact these things are available, but we are continuing to see this fall," Ms Budge told members.

Another member, Michael Stout, cited recent studies into child poverty that showed a stigma had arisen, discouraging people from applying even when they were in genuine need.


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