Deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced a new SNP promise to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all Scottish school pupils, declaring "hunger doesn't take a holiday so neither can we."

Speaking at the SNP Annual Conference, the Deputy First Minister set out this latest step in the drive to tackle child poverty, with the programme being implemented from August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.

Every Primary School pupil will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch, all year round if the SNP are re-elected in May.

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The SNP previously extended eligibility for a free school lunch to all P1 to P3 pupils while P4 to P7 pupils are eligible based on a range of income and benefits criteria. Eligibility for breakfast varies from council to council.

Now, in the face of predictions that conservative welfare cuts will drive child poverty rates even higher, the expansion - estimated to cost around £230 million per year in additional expenditure - will introduce a free year-round breakfast and lunch for all primary school pupils.

In his speech at the SNP annual conference, Mr Swinney said: “The callous cuts to welfare imposed by the Conservatives are bad enough. But we now face a tsunami of child poverty if the Tory Chancellor imposes a second wave of austerity. Scotland’s children cannot afford that.

“This is not just an issue for the very poorest. This is an issue for working families, forced to feed children from foodbanks or go hungry themselves.

“Right now, all P1 to P3 pupils are entitled to free school lunches. Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, we will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.

“We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class. So, we will also extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well.

“But one of the lessons of 2020 is term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.

“If re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.

“All primary school pupils. All classes. All year round.

“That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty, support families, and make Scotland the best place to grow up.”

And child poverty campaigners have welcomed John Swinney’s manifesto commitment.

John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “This is a massively welcome commitment. With struggling families under increasing pressure as the economic impact of coronavirus plays out, the time has unquestionably come to remove the means test from school meals.

"We know from our work that tens of thousands of children across Scotland are officially recognized as living in poverty but are not currently getting a free school meal. For many more hard pressed families the cost of school lunches and breakfasts is a huge financial burden.

"Providing a free school meal to every pupil, and a cash replacement during the school holidays, is the most effective and efficient way to ensure every child benefits.

"There is now a significant body of evidence that  a universal approach to free school meals does not just reduce pressure on family finances, but can boost children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment.”

Since its establishment in 1999 the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland has played a lead role in campaigning for universal free school meals as part of wider action to end child poverty.

The charity works with children, young people, teachers and parents across Scotland to identify and remove financial barriers to full participation at school through its Cost of the School Day project.

Mr Dickie added: “Of course hard hit families need extra support now to keep them afloat until the full roll out of the Scottish child payment and this new school meals offer in 2022.

"That’s why we continue to urge the Scottish Government to use existing mechanisms, such as the school clothing grant, to get additional financial support to families this winter to help them weather the coronavirus storm.”