Scotland could become the first UK nation to provide free breakfasts and lunches to every primary school child all year round, after the SNP pledged to do so if re-elected next May.
Speaking at the party’s conference, the Scottish education secretary, John Swinney, made the policy commitment as he claimed that the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “second wave of austerity” would unleash a “tsunami of child poverty” in Scotland.
Scotland currently provides free lunches for children in years one to three, while eligibility for breakfasts varies depending on individual councils.
Swinney, also Scotland’s deputy first minister, said: “We will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory chancellor just because they are in [primary school years] 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.” The policy would be implemented from August 2022.
The provision of free school breakfasts for all primary school children would also be a historic first within the UK if introduced.
Swinney said: “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.”
Like Wales, Scotland’s devolved government has previously committed to extending free meals through the Christmas and Easter holidays to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. The expanded policy would see the SNP commit to providing the meals throughout all holidays, regardless of how long the pandemic lasts.
Swinney told the conference: “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 holiday.”
In England, the government was pushed into its second U-turn this year following Marcus Rashford’s powerful campaign against child hunger. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson called the 22-year-old footballer to tell him the government would offer an extension of its holiday activities and food programme as part of a package to support vulnerable families in England.
The prime minister’s change of heart followed widespread anger after the government refused to offer meals during the October half-term break, leading to scores of councils, local businesses, charities and schools stepping up to provide meals for disadvantaged children over the holiday.