Trade unions vow to fight Scottish Government 'U-turn' on free school meals
Trade union chiefs have pledged to "fiercely resist" Scottish Government moves to roll back on universal free school meals.
Ahead of an anti-poverty summit in Edinburgh today, First Minister Humza Yousaf said he supports a "targeted" approach to tackling deprivation and questioned whether his teenage stepdaughter should receive free school meals.
Yousaf told the Daily Record: "Should people be paying for her free school meals when I earn a first minister's salary?
"I don't think that's the right way to use that money. I think a better way to use the money is to target it to those that need it absolutely the most."
While younger children already receive charge-free dinners, former first minister Nicola Sturgeon reconfirmed her party's pledge to extend this in her final Programme for Government in November. Campaigners say secondary school pupils must also be included.
One in four children in Scotland were understood to be living in poverty prior to the cost-of-living crisis.
Labour's Monica Lennon said a U-turn on the policy would be "a serious betrayal of Scotland's children", stating: "Even the Scottish Tories are backing the campaign led by Scotland's trade union movement and anti-poverty charities.
"The stigma of means-tested school meals stays with people for life. We need people in government who understand this, even if they haven't experienced it."
Andrea Bradley, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said her organisation is "deeply concerned" by the FM's remarks, saying: "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."
Defending universal free meals as a means to overcome stigma and other barriers for poorer children, she called on Yousaf to "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".
Yousaf's comments come a week after education secretary Jenny Gilruth said the government remains "committed to delivering a pilot of universal free school meals in secondary schools".
Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said her team were "enthusiastic participants" in the morning's summit.
However, she went on: "Suggestions this morning that the Scottish Government might consider breaking pledges to extend free school meals is not what we are looking to hear. Investing in the health of all our young people and removing stigma is a key priority and any rollback will be fiercely resisted."
Speaking after the summit, Yousaf said "we must be bold" on tax and make "tough choices".
He stated: "Tough choices will need to be made about existing budgets and we need to consider whether targeting help is the way forward when money is so tight.
"It's not enough to wish poverty away. We have to be hard-headed and realistic about what can be done, and they we have to focus on making it happen.
"That means the debate must now be about tax, targeting and tough choices. We are listening and will not shy away from the decisions needed to reduce poverty."