UNIVERSAL free school meals should be rolled out as part of the Scottish Government’s emergency response to the cost-of-living crisis, Scotland’s largest teaching union has said.

The EIS union said free school meals should be extended to all pupils in primary and secondary schools.

In her Programme for Government earlier this week, Nicola Sturgeon said work is beginning on extending free meals to all primary pupils.

She said: “Having delivered universal free school meals for all pupils in primary 1 to 5, I can announce that we will now start work with local authorities to extend universal provision to all pupils in primary 6 and 7.”

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EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley wrote to the First Minister, saying: “That the Scottish Government is preparing a budgetary response to the current cost-of-living emergency, which we know is driving hundreds of thousands more families into poverty, underscores the indisputable need for swift action to ensure that every child and young person attending school can be provided daily with at least one school meal, or with the means to buy one should the current school meal infrastructure demand an alternative means of mustering an emergency response.

“Whilst it is understood that the Scottish Government had planned a phased approach to the expansion of universal free school meals for primary-aged pupils and the trialling of such provision in secondary, the EIS is of the view now more than ever that stigma-free access to food during the school day and holiday periods for all children and young people, including those from P6 to S6, has to be one of the emergency measures that Scotland takes.”

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We know this is a worrying time and we’re doing everything within our limited powers and finite budget to help children, their parents and carers.

“However, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government and we continue to call on them to take urgent action.

“The Scottish Government is committed to the roll-out of free school lunches to all children in primary school during the course of this parliamentary term.

“All pupils in P1-5, state special schools, and eligible pupils from P6 to S6, are currently entitled to free school meals. This saves parents £400 per year per child and is the most generous free school meal entitlement anywhere in the UK.

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“We will go further, expanding universal free school meals to primaries six and seven. During the academic year 2022-23, we will work with our partners to plan for this expansion, supported by £30 million of funding for expansion of catering and dining facilities.

“Timescales have been adjusted to reflect feedback from local authorities that it would not have been possible for all schools to increase the capacity of their kitchen and dining facilities.

“We are the only nation in the UK offering the Scottish Child Payment, a vital anti-poverty benefit and one of five family payments we provide to support children.

“It will be increased to £25 per eligible child per week when we extend it to under 16s on 14 November – with its increase to £20 in April, this represents a 150% rise within eight months.”