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Parents struggle to make ends meet amid surge in Inverness children becoming ill after returning to school

By Val Sweeney

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Cllr Bet McAllister (right) with the Rokzkool team and trustee John West.
Cllr Bet McAllister (right) with the Rokzkool team and trustee John West.

Inverness is facing a hidden cash crisis as parents are forced to take time off work to care for sick children.

Now the city’s depute provost is calling on Highland Council to step in and help following a surge in poorly youngsters.

The return to school after lockdown is being blamed for a large spike in the number of pupils with colds and non-Covid viruses.

Central ward councillor Bet McAllister – whose ward includes Merkinch and Dalneigh, which have high deprivation figures – said: “There is a hidden cash crisis being caused by high numbers of children who went back to school and promptly caught colds or other non-Covid-19 viruses.

"Children who were entitled to free school meals now risk going hungry if they are off sick and mothers who have part-time jobs are taking time off work to look after these boys and girls, and are therefore losing important income.

"It adds up to a real problem for families already on a limited budget."

She made her comments after speaking to city charity Rokzkool Academy, which said it had had a rise in food requests from families with children off school with heavy colds.

"Mums in the Dalneigh and Merkinch area have approached me to explain this financial problem," she added.

"Highland Council did a wonderful job when the last school term was halted by lockdown, issuing cheques to parents of children who qualified for free school meals.

"Council chief executive Donna Manson and her team worked very hard to put that scheme in place and so many people have told me of their gratitude.

"But the huge spate of heavy colds affecting most schools in Inverness, and probably other towns in the Highlands, throws up an unexpected cash difficulty.

"I have raised the issue and hope the council can again step in and do something – this time for only a few days, or a week, until the pupil is fit to return to the classroom."

Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell was also aware of many families facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

“I’m totally supportive of any additional measures to help address the angst caused by families struggling to put food on tables,” she said.

Rokzkool Academy, a grassroots charity initially set up to offer music, sport and fun activities to children, lost its revenue due to the pandemic but has adapted to provide "lifeline" food and emergency packs from its base in Trinity Church.

Co-founder Kay Ewen said it had come across parents who were "really struggling".

"Since the kids went back to school, some have been identified as having symptoms of colds, or whatever," she said.

"Parents were concerned that if there was a positive coronavirus test, they would have to self isolate.

"They would then have to be off work and would have no income.

"We have assured them they will be given food boxes. It is the uncertainty and not knowing what to do – I don’t think they know who to turn to for support."

One city GP said increased reports of coughs and colds were to be expected, adding it would probably get worse into winter. She said if a child had a cough or fever, parents needed "to think Covid" and keep them off school, but acknowledged it could cause some difficulties and supported measures to help struggling parents.

A council spokeswoman said families on low incomes may be able to get help from the Scottish Welfare Fund to help with their heating, travel and other costs and should call or email the council’s welfare team to see if they were eligible.

What do you think? Email newsdesk@hnmedia.co.uk.

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