Maree Todd MSP: Support for Families & a Pledge on Free School Meals for All

I write this on the evening of St Andrew’s Day, the final day of the SNP’s 86th annual conference, but the first ever held entirely online.

It was strange to know that you were addressing around 3000 delegates from the comfort of your own home, and that a few clicks of the keyboard would take you to a fringe meeting, or to meet someone for a ‘blether’. No need to grab a sandwich in the mad dash between meeting rooms!

But the lack of a full conference hall didn’t stop important announcements from party leaders.

I am sure many in Orkney and across Scotland will welcome the £100 million package, announced by party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday afternoon, to bridge the gap between now and the first Scottish Child Payments due in February 2021. This will help families and others struggling most with the impact of Covid over the winter months.

It will include money to help people pay their fuel bills and make sure children don’t go hungry.

It will offer additional help for the homeless, and fund an initiative to get older people online and connected.

And, most importantly of all, it will provide a cash grant of £100 for every family with children in receipt of free school meals.

The money will be paid before Christmas and families can use it for whatever will help them through the winter.

Initiatives like this, as the First Minister said, are not just about providing practical help to those who need it most – they are an expression of our values and of the kind of country we are seeking to build.

Earlier in the conference, I was particularly pleased, in my role as Minister for Children and Young People, to hear John Swinney give good news to hard-pressed families, with a pledge on school meals.

From 2022, if re-elected next May, the SNP will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7. To give pupils the best possible start to their school day, we will extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well. That means breakfast and lunch for every pupil every school day.

But, further than that, another lesson we have learned during 2020 is that term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we. Just as the SNP Scottish Government extended free meals through the holidays this year next year, if re-elected, we will extend free school meals through every school holidays. That is all primary school pupils, all classes, all year rounnd.

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

These are the types of action that make me proud to be part of a government building a fairer, more equal future for us all.

Stay strong folk.

This is a regular column by SNP MSP Maree Todd. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their views.

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