SNP conference: Free year-round breakfast and lunch for all Scots primary pupils, says John Swinney

Free school breakfasts and lunches will be provided all year round to every Primary pupil in Scotland under radical plans unveiled by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
Free school lunches and breakfasts will provided all year round for primary school pupilsFree school lunches and breakfasts will provided all year round for primary school pupils
Free school lunches and breakfasts will provided all year round for primary school pupils

The programme will be introduced from August 2022 if the SNP is re-elected at next year's May election, making Scotland the first part of the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.

Mr Swinney hailed the example of Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford in highlighting food poverty as he delivered the keynote speech to today's SNP conference.

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At the moment, free school lunches are only provided to P1-3 pupils during term time, while eligibility for breakfasts varies from council council.

But Mr Swinney claimed looming UK Government welfare cuts to deal with the economic impact of Coronavirus has hastened the need for intervention from Holyrood.

"Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, we will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7," he said.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.

“We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class. So, we will also extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well.

“But one of the lessons of 2020 is term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.

“If re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.

“All primary school pupils. All classes. All year round.

“That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty, support families, and make Scotland the best place to grow up.”

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The expansion will cost an estimated £230 million a year, but comes amid growing fears that child poverty rates could soar if fresh austerity cuts are imposed.

The Deputy First Minister said free school provision has already been extended in Scotland throughout, but said ministers had not been “shamed” into action. It comes after the UK Government extended provision following a campaign by Manchester united star Rashford.

He added: “We did it because we saw what young leaders like Marcus Rashford saw – what he grew up with – we saw kids going hungry in our schools and that is simply not acceptable to us.”

The commitment on school meals was hailed as “massively welcome” by campaigners.

John Dickie of the Child Poverty Actions group added: “With struggling families under increasing pressure as the economic impact of coronavirus plays out, the time has unquestionably come to remove the means test from school meals.

"We know from our work that tens of thousands of children across Scotland are officially recognized as living in poverty but are not currently getting a free school meal. For many more hard pressed families the cost of school lunches and breakfasts is a huge financial burden.”

He added: “There is now a significant body of evidence that a universal approach to free school meals does not just reduce pressure on family finances, but can boost children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment.”

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