A CALL has been made for free meals to be made available to children in Scotland outwith term time.

Children in Scotland, the umbrella body for groups working in the children's sector, said that many families needed support during the holidays as well as when schools are open.

The plea for action came in the wake of a report which found that some parents experience challenges in ensuring their children are fed during school holidays.

YouGov's ‘holiday hunger’ study, based on research by Kellogg’s, was issued to all Westminster MPs yesterday and was drawn from data compiled across the whole of the UK.

It found that four out of 10 parents in low-income households will skip meals in the summer holidays so they can afford to feed their children, while 73 per cent of parents who earn less than £15,000 said they could not always afford food outside of term time.

People earning under £25,000 also expressed concerns about ensuring their children received nutritious meals during the holidays, with 62 per cent saying they struggled to afford food out of term time.

Almost half of parents said they would be likely to take their children to a free holiday breakfast club, while 78 per cent agreed that such clubs could ease parent stress.

Up to one third said they had skipped a meal so that their children could eat. Food banks and community projects have also reported increases in families seeking food for their children in non-term time.

Children in Scotland Chief Executive Jackie Brock said: “Last week’s Budget targeted further welfare cuts at our poorest families.

"Scotland has gone a long way to address hunger for young children during term time, but we now need to focus on how we can support families during holidays when pressures are most intense."

Around 135,000 children receive free school meals in Scotland, through the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide them for all P1-3 pupils.

Children in Scotland is currently developing a 'Families, Food, Futures' programme across three local authorities, which will target schools to offer a free meal as part of a wider range of activities for children and their families.

The programme will be based in schools with high deprivation levels, but will be available to all pupils.

Ms Brock said: “Poorer families will find feeding their children, and finding childcare and holiday activities, very difficult and stressful. We must do more to support them.

“Scotland has policies in place on food and wellbeing, as well as Curriculum for Excellence, that make us well-placed to make a change.

“Alongside a coordinated and strategic response to poverty and hunger, we need to look to sustainably funded projects at a local authority or community level that can offer meals out with term-time.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The shocking reality of the UK Government’s austerity agenda has led to unacceptable levels of child poverty in Scotland with 210,000 children now living in relative poverty after housing costs were paid.

“Our action to provide free school meals to all P1-3 pupils means more than 259,000 pupils in Scotland are now registered, saving parents of eligible pupils around £380 a year, demonstrating our commitment to tackling poverty head on despite challenges from the UK Government.

“While we have already invested £296 million in welfare mitigation measures, including our £1 million Emergency Food Action Plan which helps 26 projects provide food aid and redistributes food from retailers to communities, we want to do much more and we will consider all proposals in our work to tackle child poverty where it occurs.”