Scottish Government must not roll back Commitment to free Universal School Meals

Created on: 03 May 2023

The EIS raised serious concerns over reported comments from First Minister Humza Yousaf which suggest that the Scottish Government may pull back on its manifesto commitment to the roll-out of universal free school meals.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said, "The EIS is deeply concerned to read comments from the First Minister today, suggesting a roll-back on the Scottish Government's commitment to the delivery of free school meals for all young people.

"Reneging on a commitment to free school meals would be a massive and profoundly damaging mistake which would betray young people living in poverty across Scotland, and would be a particularly hard blow to families with school-aged children as they continue the hard struggle with the cost-of-living crisis."

Ms Bradley continued, "In his comments, the First Minister seems to suggest that means-testing provision of free school meals is a preferable option, primarily for financial reasons. But that is misunderstanding the problem entirely. A key principle of universal provision of free school meals for all young people is about removing the stigma of free entitlement, to ensure that the young people who need free meals the most feel completely comfortable in accepting them."

"In a means tested system, the stigma attached leads many young people to decline their free meal entitlement as they do not wish to appear 'different' or to become a target of bullying over their family circumstances. We need to create the culture in schools where all young people can enjoy meals together, free of charge and free of stigma.

"Means-testing will always mean, as it does now, that too many young people will miss out on access to healthy, nutritional food at school. Sadly, for tens and tens of thousands of young people in Scotland, this is their one chance in the day to eat well whilst food cupboards at home are bare."

Ms Bradley added, "What young person can concentrate well enough to learn when they're hungry or humiliated? A universal free school meals system is the best option for young people, their health and wellbeing and their educational chances.

"The roll-out of universal free school meals so far has been a significant success, albeit that timescales have lagged, and continues to have strong support from across the educational and political spectrum. The First Minister must now rethink his comments, and recommit the Scottish Government to delivering the continuing expansion of free school meals provision in line with the promise made to the electorate in the last Scottish Parliamentary election manifesto."