The SNP will provide free breakfast and lunch to 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”.
In response, 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.
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 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 of 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 extend the provision of free meals south of the border.
Mr Swinney went on to tell SNP supporters the coronavirus pandemic had brought about a “seismic shift in the psyche of Scotland”, saying people now routinely looked to the First Minister rather than Westminster for leadership.
He praised Nicola Sturgeon, describing her as having “bared her soul almost every day… as she shared the agonising decisions Government has had to make over the last eight months”.
He added: “We have not got every decision right but the people of Scotland have seen who places their interests – sometimes their very safety – at the heart of decision making.”
Mr Swinney said that one “lesson of Covid” was “not just that you can trust the SNP, but that Scotland can trust herself”.
He told people: “We can have faith in ourselves as a nation, as capable, talented and ready to face life’s challenges as any other country.
“As this pandemic has continued, the people of Scotland have seen the truth of that argument with every passing day.
“We have always said that the solution to Scotland’s problems do not lie in London. Never was that more obvious than in 2020.
“In the moment of crisis, our nation’s eyes did not turn to Westminster. It was not the Prime Minister who people looked to. It was the Government here in Scotland and our First Minister.”
Mr Swinney added: “It is deeply telling that even those people yet to be convinced by the merits of independence did not look to London, to Westminster or to Boris Johnson.
“When it mattered most, we all looked to Scotland’s own leader, our own Government, and our own Parliament.”
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