The STUC Women’s Committee is calling for the expansion of Universal Free School Meals in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has said that education and tackling the poverty-related attainment gap are their top priorities: we ask the Scottish Government to take stronger action in support of these priorities by introducing Universal Free School Meals for all.
Our children and young people’s life chances cannot be put on hold – immediate policy action is required now
Why is this important?
Poverty and inequality were already at an unacceptably high level in Scotland well before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, and we have grave concerns that such socio-economic disadvantage has only intensified, especially for children and women.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to significantly reduce Child Poverty by 2030, with a view to ultimately eradicating it, and the creation of the new Scottish Child Payment Benefit is welcomed by the STUC Women’s Committee. Similarly, we welcome the Deputy First Minister’s pledge to expand free school meals provision to all Primary school pupils if the SNP retain power at the 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections.
However, we strongly believe that further urgent action to mitigate child poverty is required immediately. The Scottish Government have the power and resources to go further in introducing progressive policies that can more strongly mitigate poverty and inequality and make life-changing differences to children and families now. Firm and decisive action on child poverty in Scotland cannot be further delayed.
That is why the STUC Women’s Committee is calling on the Scottish Government to expand Universal Free School Meals to all children and young people, including those of Secondary school and Nursery age, with immediate effect. Moreover, we are calling on the Scottish Government to combat holiday hunger by ensuring that there are programmes and provisions in place in all of Scotland’s local authorities so that all children and young people have access to sufficient food during the school holidays.
Our most vulnerable children, young people’s right and access to a nutritious meal should not be determined by chance of the local authority they live in or based on the goodwill of community volunteers.
We know that the roots of the poverty-related attainment gap stretch well beyond the school gates, but the significant role our educational institutions play in tackling poverty, challenging inequality, and helping to build a healthier, more inclusive society cannot be underestimated.
We strongly believe that the introduction of Universal Free School Meals will not only help to combat hunger and poverty but will shatter the stigma and shame associated with the provision of meals on a means tested basis and will fuel young people’s ability to learn in the classroom. Neither empty tummies nor low self-esteem make for full days of learning in school. Furthermore, this progressive policy sends a clear and positive message to the rest of the devolved nations and beyond that we are serious about ending poverty in Scotland, and that we are genuinely committed to educational equity and to the wellbeing of our young people.
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