Headlines: January 6th, 2006

A public service union has voiced concerns that rises in the price of school meals may lead to the people who need them most being priced out of the market. The warning has come from UNISON with the publication of its latest survey of the cost of school dinners.The survey, the third conducted by the union, shows the price of a school meal has increased by 44 per cent in the last ten years. Retail price inflation over the same period was only 16 per cent. Since 2001 the cost of a meal has risen by an average 13 per cent.

UNISON fears that if the trend shown in the figures continues children from disadvantaged families, who are most in need of school meals, will be priced out. Christine Lewis, UNISON National Officer, said take-up of the meals was directly related to prices. No matter what action was taken to improve the quality of the food parents would not buy them if they could not afford them.

“If the prices continue to rise at this rate the reform of the service will be self-defeating as those who need it most will miss out,” she said. UNISON points to research that has shown healthy eating increases children’s concentration and learning ability to support its view that all primary school children should have free school meals so that there is a level playing field for them.

UNISON says that since the national pricing of school meals was introduced in 1980, some authorities have continued to subsidise the service but others have left pricing to market forces, which the union says has led to the big price rises. Its new survey shows that 48 per cent of councils provide a subsidy for their meals service compared to 62 per cent in 1995. Take up of school meals has fallen to 41 per cent in primary school