Meals for school children and hospital patients must be protected from looming cuts – UNISON

Date: Thursday 10 October 2013

The quality of meals for school children and hospital patients must be protected from further public spending cuts, UNISON said today.

The public services union warned that public service catering standards are under pressure as ‘austerity’ cuts bite, with more deep cuts on the way.

A survey of UNISON members working in catering found that 93% reported cuts to their service. Half said these were severe or major and they expect further major or severe cuts in the next couple of years.

Lilian Macer, Convener of UNISON Scotland, said: “There are many excellent examples of great work on making school meals and hospital food fresh, healthy and sustainable. That is good news for learning in school, for improving health generally and for climate change targets.

“But the danger is that services will face increasing pressure as more of the cuts hit. Parents won’t want the quality of school meals going down and we don’t want to lose progress being made with hospital food, which should be seen as essential to patients’ wellbeing.

“UNISON is today launching our new Food for Good Charter which lays out key ways in which food in schools and hospitals, nurseries, care homes, prisons and other public services should be fresh, local, healthy and sustainable.

“At a time when emergency foodbank use has soared, with child poverty predicted to increase significantly by 2020, and with further major public spending cuts coming, it is a false economy to reduce budgets for food.”

The Food for Good Charter highlights the vital role food has to play across a range of policy areas, particularly in preventive spending, and calls for procurement of food to take account of the ‘whole life’ costs, including costs attributable to health and climate change.

Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining & Campaigns,said: “Many of our catering members tell us that they are under pressure on a daily basis. That obviously has an impact on the service as well as the catering staff.

“While most are not worried at this stage about food safety and public health issues, because this is prioritised, a range of current concerns came up, with some saying food quality has gone down due to cost-cutting and that pressures on staff have inevitable consequences. We mustn’t see further cuts to these vital services.

“And on food safety and public health, we are warning again that the public do not want to see repeats of threats like the horsemeat scandal. It is essential to protect funding for environmental health and meat hygiene services. Scotland’s new Food Standards body must provide independent checks on meat and must be properly resourced.”

Responses to a Freedom of Information request by UNISON Scotland on food sourcing for school and hospital meals shows some good practice, but room for far more to be done to ensure fresh, local, healthy and sustainable food is used.


For information please contact:
Lilian Macer, Convener, UNISON Scotland, 07939 143353
Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, 07958 122 409

Notes to editors:

1. UNISON is Scotland’s largest trade union representing 160,000 members working in the public sector in Scotland, including catering across public services.

2. UNISON Scotland’s new Food for Good Charter is online at

You can view and download the charter PDF at this link

3. A Bargaining Briefing covering the Charter is online at b041_BargainingBrief_Food4GoodCharter_Oct2013.pdf

It also briefly covers our members’ survey, and responses to a Freedom of Information request to councils and health boards on food sourcing for school and hospital meals.

4. The Bargaining Briefing has a few quotes from the members’ survey, including: “Food budget is cut and we don’t provide a good enough portion and the quality of food has been downgraded for price.” ; “The reduced number of staff affects cleaning the kitchen and maintenance of equipment.” ; “Poorer quality, fewer choices”’; “Lots of complaints with food quality and amount.”