Scottish government must reverse free school meals delay to help tackle poverty.

The Scottish Government must reverse its decision to delay the roll-out of free school meals to all children in Primaries Six and Seven.

The commitment was originally due to be delivered by last August, but a previous decision by the Scottish Government delayed the roll-out. This year’s Scottish Budget, published late last year, revealed that the universal roll-out of free school meals for P6 and P7 will now be delayed by a further two years, until 2024.

Delaying the roll-out of free school meals to all primary school children was a shameful decision, which runs contrary to the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to tackling child poverty. This is now the second time that the roll-out of this hugely important policy has been delayed, with serious consequences for thousands of children and families across Scotland. It is also extremely disappointing how this change in policy came to light – not announced in Parliament, but obscured within the detail of the budget document itself. In a country where more than 1 child in 4 lives in poverty, and with the cost-of-living crisis pushing even more families into financial difficulty, it is more important than ever that universal free school meals should be a priority.

Although a watered-down, means-tested, policy is being implemented for P6 and P7, this will miss many young people who will just fail to qualify for a free meal, placing great strain on families already struggling with the soaring cost of living. Means-testing of entitlement also does nothing to reduce the stigma people often feel in claiming a free meal, which leads to many young people declining to take a free meal in order to avoid unwanted scrutiny from others. Universal free meals remain the best way to ensure that all young people have access to a healthy and nutritious meal at school, without any stigma being attached.

The EIS has long called for the roll-out of universal free school meals for all young people. In addition to completing the roll-out to all primary pupils, the EIS believes that all secondary school pupils should also receive free school meals. General Secretary Andrea Bradley is a long-standing member of the STUC Women’s Committee, which has also been active in the campaign for free school meals to combat the impact of poverty.