Universal free school meals should be expanded to all pupils across the primary and secondary sectors, according to union campaigners.

Fresh calls for action come as thousands of learners return to classrooms following the Easter break.

The new campaign is organised by the STUC Women’s Committee and forms a key part of the Congress’ council election manifesto. Bosses say the expansion would “break the stigma” around school meals and help mitigate the effects of poverty.

STUC leaders also claim there is growing pressure on the Scottish Government to accelerate the rollout of free meals after it scrapped the August 2022 target for universal provision in primary schools. P6 and P7 pupils now face waiting until “later in the parliamentary term" in a development that will place them at a “fundamental disadvantage”, union bosses have warned.

READ MORE: School dinner debt to councils 'should be written off'

Fiona Steele, STUC Women’s Committee Chair, said: “Children across Scotland will be returning to school this week at a fundamental disadvantage through entirely avoidable child hunger.

“There’s a material cost-of-living crisis going on throughout the country, impacting thousands and embedding poverty within our communities.

“Accelerating the rollout of universal school meals to all primary school pupils is the bare minimum we need from the Scottish Government. Our ‘Food for Thought’ campaign wants this extended to all pupils – primary and secondary – bringing an end to pupil hunger and breaking the stigma around school meals.

“We believe that hunger knows no age boundaries. If the Scottish Government is truly committed to reducing child poverty and enshrining the rights of the child into law – expanding universal free school meals is a critical component to make this a reality. Local authorities cannot do this alone and council candidates must back our call.”

READ MORE: Glasgow centre to nurture university dreams from the age of 7

Marion Davis, One Parent Families Scotland director of policy, communications and strategy, said: ”If we are serious about tackling child poverty and are truly committed to removing health inequalities, it should be a priority to improve the health of our future generations by providing free, nutritious meal for every child on every day of their school lives.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We fund local authorities to provide free school meals to pupils in primaries one to five and in state-funded special schools, saving families an average of £400 per year. We will go further, expanding free school meals to primary six and seven pupils and piloting universal provision in secondary schools. Targeted support will continue for eligible families during school holidays throughout the school year.

“Councils have the power to make discretionary offers of free school meals to families, where they are experiencing financial hardship due to exceptional circumstances.”