The SNP will provide free breakfasts and lunches to all primary school children in Scotland all year round if re-elected next May, Education Secretary John Swinney has pledged.
He made the commitment as he warned that Scotland was facing a “tsunami of child poverty” if UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak imposes a “second wave of austerity”.
To help combat that, Mr Swinney promised free breakfasts and lunches for every primary school pupil in Scotland.
The policy would be implemented from August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.
🍎 Free school breakfast and lunches for all primary school pupils, in all classes, all year round.
🏫 Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and neither can we. If re-elected next May, the SNP will expand free school meals to all primary pupils so no child goes hungry at school. #SNP20 pic.twitter.com/LrZYK5kU9y
— The SNP (@theSNP) November 28, 2020
The Scottish Education Secretary said: “Just as we extended free meals through the holidays this year and next, if re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.”
The commitment came as he told the SNP conference how the Westminster Government had “ignored” Scotland during the coronavirus crisis, rejecting pleas from Scottish ministers for the furlough scheme to be extended, with this only happening “when the economic problems of Covid hit the South of England”.
Mr Swinney, also Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, said the coronavirus pandemic had “shown us just how little financial security some families have”.
He spoke about the plight of “families not entitled to many benefits, families in work”, saying that “they are already hard-pressed and Tory austerity will hit them harder”.
While he said the Scottish Government had acted – citing the introduction of next year’s £10 a week Scottish Child Payment to poorer families – he also said more must be done.
He told the conference that if re-elected in May the SNP would make free breakfasts and lunches available to “all primary school pupils,” – stressing this would apply to “all classes, all year round”.
Mr Swinney said: “That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty.”
While children already receive free school meals in P1 through to P3 he said: “We will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.
“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.”
He continued: “We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class.
“A child arriving at school hungry cannot learn as well as they should. So, we will also extend the free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well.
“Breakfast and lunch for every pupil every school day.
“But another lesson in 2020 is term-time isn’t enough.
“Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.
“Just as we extended free meals through the holidays this year and next, if re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.”
The promise comes as footballer Marcus Rashford continues his efforts to lobby the UK Government to extended the provision of free meals south of the border.
Never thought I would deliver my speech to @theSNP Conference from my back garden. But Covid has changed everything. Will miss seeing good friends over the next few days but we will all be together. #SNP20 pic.twitter.com/X8049ksEIH
— John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) November 28, 2020
Aberdeen Central MSP, Kevin Stewart, has welcomed the SNP’s commitment to extending free school meals.
He said: “This will be an absolute game-changer for families across Aberdeen. The expansion of free school meals will benefit pupils in every single primary school across this city
“If we want to ensure that all of our children are getting the most from our education system, then we cannot have a situation where they are going hungry at school.
“It is also not right that children face going hungry during school holidays – children and their parents shouldn’t be looking to the school holidays with dread – and we are now committing to fix that for good.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has this afternoon responded to the announcement, stating that he believes action should be taken now and not in two years time.
Mr Ross said: “I made providing free school lunches and breakfasts to all primary school pupils a key part of the Scottish Conservative schools policy I announced back in September, so I am pleased John Swinney has signalled he will follow our lead on this.
“But there is no need to wait two more years.
“We can deliver this now, so our young people get the benefit as soon as possible.
“As the SNP are now supportive of our policy, there is no reason why this can’t pass through the Scottish Parliament as the priority it clearly is.”
He continued: “And when it comes to restoring our schools, a Scottish Conservative government wouldn’t stop there.
“We would recruit 3,000 teachers to reverse SNP cutbacks and invest in schools through fair funding to councils.
“During the Covid crisis, the Chancellor and UK Treasury have supported Scotland with an additional £9.5 billion in funding.
“John Swinney looks churlish trying to turn a positive commitment into a false grievance.”