Politics

Nicola Sturgeon urged to start free school meals policy for primary pupils now

Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to find cash to give all primary school pupils in Scotland free school meals.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie made the call today as he claimed “getting food to hungry children is a postcode lottery in Glasgow”.

The MSP raised the issue after pictures on social media showed scores of people queuing up for emergency food parcels in the snow.

Harvie branded the images an “indictment on the failure to tackle poverty and hunger in Scotland”

Speaking at FMQs today he added: “This level of desperation is happening in the city both the First Minister and I represent.”

He challenged Sturgeon to “commit to universal solutions such as extending free school meals to all primary pupils all year round”.

The SNP has already promised to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all primary children throughout the year if re-elected in May – a policy that would be brought in from August 2022.

Sturgeon said her party has “made clear if we are returned to government then that is exactly what we will do, free school meals to all primary pupils and children in early years, all year round”.

She urged other parties to adopt the same policy, saying that would mean “whoever emerges victorious from the election in May, we know that that policy will be implemented”.

But Harvie insisted: “The First Minister doesn’t need to wait till May to commit to the policy of extending eligibility for free school meals, it could be built into the Budget Parliament will be voting on later this month.”

Sturgeon accepted there is “much more we all need to do to tackle poverty”.

She said she had been “appalled and disturbed” by the pictures of people queuing in the snow for food parcels, but stressed the Scottish Government has acted to try to reduce poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The First Minister said: “We have increased funding throughout the pandemic for food insecurity, we have increased funding to specifically help those who are having poverty exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We will continue to take whatever steps we can to help those who are finding it toughest as a result of what everybody is dealing with right now.”

She highlighted the new Scottish Child Payment, a £10 a week payment for low-income families which was brought in earlier this week.

Scotland is the “only part of the UK with this scheme which is about lifting children, and by extension families, out of poverty”, Sturgeon said, as she urged the UK Government to follow her administration’s example.

However she claimed: “I don’t think there is a shred of evidence that this UK Government is at all serious about tackling child poverty.”

The First Minister said it is “time the UK Government stopped hiding its head in the sand about the damage their policies are causing”, as she called for the £20 uplift in Universal Credit to be made permanent.

She added that if the UK Government “wanted to get truly serious about tackling child poverty they would follow the lead of the Scottish Government and establish the equivalent of the Scottish Child Payment so we can tackle head-on child poverty and lift more children out of poverty for good”.

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