Free school breakfasts and lunches will be given to all primary pupils in Scotland from 2022, under plans announced by the SNP yesterday.
John Swinney made the pledge as he warned that Scotland was facing a “tsunami of child poverty” if Chancellor Rishi Sunak imposes a “second wave of austerity”.
Free meals would be provided during school terms and breaks, with the education secretary insisting: “Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.”
Currently all children in primary one to three and children in primary four to seven whose parents are in receipt of benefits are entitled to free school lunches.
The extended policy would cost an extra £230 million a year and be introduced in August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.
Addressing the SNP’s virtual conference yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “The callous cuts to welfare imposed by the Conservatives are bad enough. But we now face a tsunami of child poverty if the Tory Chancellor imposes a second wave of austerity. Scotland’s children cannot afford that.
“This is not just an issue for the very poorest. This is an issue for working families, forced to feed children from food banks or go hungry themselves.”
But experts warned that the money will come from funds that could have been targeted better on low-income families.
Mr Swinney’s pledge, which would be introduced if the SNP wins next May’s Holyrood election, comes as footballer Marcus Rashford continues his efforts to lobby the UK Government to extend the provision of free meals south of the border.
He forced Boris Johnson into reversing his decision to block children from receiving free school meals over Christmas.
Opening the SNP conference, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland is “now a nation on the brink of making history”.
She told an estimated 3,000 members watching online: “Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country that we and future generations deserve.”
The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford will tell SNP delegates at the conference today that the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill is “the biggest threat to devolution since our parliament reconvened”.
The legislation is designed to replace EU law and create a new legal framework for the UK following Brexit. Mr Blackford is expected to say: “The Internal Market Bill might seem like an obscure piece of legislation, but it cuts to the heart of the Tories’ efforts to undermine Scotland’s parliament.”
Meanwhile, Scottish ministers are expected to announce this week whether the school Christmas holidays could be extended further into January after coronavirus rules were relaxed for the festive season.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: “We will set out soon precise details of the school holidays.”