Free school meals will not be available to all primary pupils until 2026, the First Minister has clarified following his Programme for Government speech.
Humza Yousaf set out his agenda for the next year in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday and he pledged to expand free school meals in the “year ahead”.
However the Programme for Government document states the move requires getting adequate infrastructure in place, with the full expansion taking place in 2026.
Speaking to journalists during a visit to the Thistle Foundation in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Mr Yousaf said the next phase of the expansion will see those in receipt of the Scottish Child Payment receive free lunches, and it is hoped that will be rolled out in the “next year”.
Mr Yousaf earlier dismissed claims he had pushed back the commitment to roll out the policy universally, with the 2021/22 Programme for Government, published in September 2021, stating it would be in place “within the next 12 months”.
He said the commitment is to implement the policy for primary school pupils by the “end of the parliamentary term” in 2026.
He told journalists: “I stand on that manifesto that we were elected upon that we said we will expand universal provision for P6 and P7 through the course of this parliamentary term.
“What I’ve said yesterday is that when it comes to the next phase of that expansion, it will be for those P6 and P7 that are eligible for the Scottish Child Payment and that we hope to do next year.”
Closing his speech on Tuesday, he had told Holyrood: “In the year ahead… we will expand free school meals.”
All other primary school pupils, from P1 to P5, already receive free school lunches.
Under the next phase, low-income families in receipt of certain benefits which make them eligible for the Scottish Child Payment will be given free lunches.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said the commitment highlighted the “broken promises” made by the First Minister.
He said: “On free school meals, he sought to dupe listeners into believing the SNP haven’t back-tacked when they clearly have.
“Their 2021 Programme for Government was explicit that free school meals would be provided to all primary school pupils by August 2022, yet now he’s kicking the can down the road until 2026.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “Free school meals are a way of ensuring that young children start the day with nutritious food.
“The nationalists made big promises but it’s clear that they have no prospect of delivering them before the next election.
“These delays and broken pledges are a perfect illustration of why voters should not vote for the SNP.”
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