The SNP's 2021 election manifesto pledge for free school meals for all primary school pupils is “massively welcome”, say child poverty campaigners.

Deputy first minister and Education Secretary John Swinney made the announcement this afternoon on the opening day of his party's conference, which is being held remotely.

He told delegates: "Right now, all P1 to P3 pupils are entitled to free school lunches. Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, that is not good enough. 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.”

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He also promised to extend “free provision of a healthy breakfast” to all primary pupils too.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), greeted the policy announcement.

"This is a massively welcome commitment," he said.

"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."

He added: "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.

Dickie continued: “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.”