Free breakfasts and lunches will be provided to all primary school children in Scotland throughout term time and the holidays if the SNP is re-elected in May, the country’s education secretary has pledged.
Speaking virtually to the Scottish National Party annual conference from his back garden, John Swinney said that the country faced a “tsunami of child poverty” if Chancellor Rishi Sunak “imposed a second wave of austerity”.
“Scotland cannot afford that,” he told party members.
The policy would be implemented from August 2022, and would stand to make Scotland the first nation in the UK to universally offer free primary school meals.
He said the SNP’s existing scheme, which provides low-income families with £10 per week, per child under-six, had gone some way to relieving poverty but was not sufficient.
“It puts food on the table and clothes on the backs of pupils in schools from Ayr to Aberdeen,” he said. “It gives them a better start to their school day and a better chance of the education that is their escape route from poverty.
“But friends, that is not enough.”
The SNP has this year already extended free school meals through the summer holidays, the October break, and the upcoming Christmas and Easter holidays – but that only applied to P1 to P3 children (aged four to seven).
The new plan would extend universal free school meals pupils from P1 to P7 (up to ages 11 to 12).
Referencing the UK government’s response to football star Marcus Rashford‘s successful campaign to extend free school meals over the summer, Mr Swinney said: “We didn’t need to be shamed into doing something about it.
“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.
“As every teacher will tell you, no child who is hungry can learn as they should.”
His comments came as party leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, told conference that Scotland was “on the cusp of making history” and that the SNP’s goal of independence was “in clear sight”.
Last December, the SNP won 48 of 59 available Scottish seats in the UK general election – and several opinion polls since then have suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of independence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will not allow another referendum, but Ms Sturgeon said a majority for her party in next year’s Holyrood election should enable such a vote to happen.
She told conference: “Scotland is now a nation on the cusp of making history. Independence is in clear sight – and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.
“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve.”
Ms Sturgeon claimed that support for independence among Scots has now “risen to become the sustained and majority view in public opinion”.
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