FREE school meals will be brought in for all pupils in Scotland’s primary schools, the Deputy First Minister has insisted, although she said the Government is considering targeted help for secondary students.

Shona Robison, who is also Scotland’s Finance Secretary, said that with a “constrained budget” and “very limited levers”, the Scottish Government has to look at the “targeting of resources”.

It comes after First Minister Humza Yousaf hinted further tax rises could be introduced as ministers try to reduce poverty.

Robison said the Government cannot “ignore” the plight of youngsters who are “sometimes not getting more than one meal a day”.

She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We need to make sure that in a cost of living crisis where families are struggling, that the resources go where they are needed the most.”

The suggestion that the Government could pull back on its commitment to free school meals – with the SNP having pledged to introduce them for all primary pupils plus a pilot scheme for secondary students – met with a furious reaction.

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, said that he is “hugely concerned”.

An SNP commitment to bring in free lunches for all primary pupils by 2022 was not met, and Robison said free meals for P6 and P7 pupils will be introduced in 2024.

Adamson told the BBC: “The pace of their change isn’t fast enough. It is a political choice to allow children to continue to live in poverty and in hunger. This isn’t an act of charity, this is an obligation on government, making sure that children can access their rights to food and health and education.”

He said universal free school meals is a policy that “works really well”, adding: “It reduces stigma and ensures that everyone has that basic standard. In addition to that we should be targeting additional support to those children that need it.

“Targeted support is really useful, but when we are talking about something as basic as food, a universal approach is really effective.

“We know a targeted approach to free school meals means some people miss out.”

It came as the Alba Party launched a petition demanding the roll-out of free school meals to all school children in Scotland.

The party’s national equalities convener Eva Comrie said: “Rising costs mean an increasing number of families who are not entitled to free school meals can no longer make ends meet.

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“Free school meals help remove the stigma of poverty, provide children with a nutritious meal during the day and help to reduce the cost of the school day by saving families £400 per child a year.

“The First Minister’s comments are worrying because cuts to college places, dental care, stricter PIP [personal independence payment] assessments which became ADP [adult disability payment] assessments, more means testing for Universal Credit were all brought in under the guise of prioritisation – and making savings to free up more money to help the poorest. Yet, once the provision is lost the extra investment never seems to materialise.

She added: “Free school meals also make economic sense. There is no need to have bureaucratic means testing in place, it keeps £400 for every child in household pockets that can be spent in the local economy and obesity costs the NHS up to £600 million per year and lost productivity in the economy up to £4 billion, so starting all children on a healthy and equal footing through school meals will save money in the long run.”

Yesterday, Holyrood’s Social Justice Committee heard evidence on the cost of living crisis, with Cara Hilton of The Trussell Trust speaking to MSPs.

Discussing free school meals, she said: “We do really think a universal approach is absolutely vital. It reduces the stigma that we face, especially in our high schools where we know that young people don’t want to be identified as having a free school meal.”

Robison was adamant the Government would not “row back on a very clear commitment” to provide free school meals for all primary pupils.

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The Finance Secretary added: “The timescale is now for 2024, which will enable schools to get the infrastructure like kitchen expansion into place to make that happen.”

“The point here is we do need to look at where we spend our resources and whether or not they are being spent in the right place and the right way to help those that need the most help.”

Pressed on the commitment to pilot free meals for secondary pupils, she added: “That is what we need to look at and consider and that is where the issue of targeting comes in.

“The question for us in terms of choices is the resources to roll out free school meals in secondary schools, would that be better targeted to support for example breakfast clubs or tea clubs, to make sure that children who are from the poorest families are getting three meals a day instead of one at lunchtime.

“These are the difficult choices we need to make. No decision has been made, but these are the discussions we are having now about what the priorities should be.

“Resources are tight and we need to make difficult decisions, we need to make sure that in a cost-of-living crisis where families are struggling, that the resources go where they are needed the most.”