Jenny Gilruth has pledged to reach out directly to the freshly appointed First Minister John Swinney for an increased funding aimed at free school meals, following a meeting with campaigning students at a summit held at the Scottish Parliament.

In her capacity as Education Secretary, Gilruth attended the event, which aimed to foster our crusade seeking government intervention to counter an alarming rise in food scarcity within school premises.

During the discussion, students from various parts of Scotland shared their experiences with Gilruth regarding school meals and articulated their belief in the necessity for free meals to be made accessible to all.

Teachers, union leaders and public health experts have warned that thousands of children are coming to school hungry due to the current cost of living crisis.

The Scottish Government committed several years ago to providing free school meals to all, yet as of now, only Primary one to five classes are included.

A proposed pilot in secondary schools has yet to be initiated.

Gilruth expressed her intention to personally discuss the matter at a cabinet meeting with Swinney on Tuesday in a bid for additional funding.

Speaking post the summit, she said, “Today’s summit was of the utmost importance. The attendance and engagement of a respectable number of young individuals at the Parliament, the youngest being a 10-year old from Primary 6, was a delight.”

“It was remarkable to have their insights regarding the significance of free school meals and to understand how universal provision could possibly help lessen the associated stigma.”

“We’ve achieved notable progress in rolling out the scheme from Primary 1-5 and are now aiming to extend it to all those receiving the Scottish child payment in Primary 6 and 7, before ultimately achieving full universality.”

“Today was a significant step in fostering an all-encompassing understanding of the issue.”

Gilruth acknowledged her commitment after hearing the students’ experiences at the event.

Summer Miller, 11, a Primary 7 student from Ardrossan Academy in South Ayrshire stated, “We want everyone to be treated equally. By providing everyone with a free lunch in school, we can prevent anyone from feeling left out.”

Leland Ahern, 10, a Primary 6 student at Newton Primary in Ayrshire, held the view that, “Free school meals should be for everyone, not just for primary 1 to 5. If this doesn’t happen, some children might not get adequate food to grow up healthily. It’s unfair for certain people to have a different diet due to financial shortages.”

Gemma Osuolale, a teenager from the Passion4Fusion charity that aids young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, expressed her belief that, “Free school meals should be offered in secondary schools to ensure that all children receive proper nutrition and energy. Universal provision can get rid of the social stigma around free school meals and help address social inequality, which can be daunting for some students.”

In the hours following the meeting, the Scottish government unveiled a £1.5m fund to support councils in cancelling school meal debts.

Mr. Swinney stated that the move aims to ensure children are not “penalised” amid the surge in the cost of living.

Monica Lennon MSP, who spearheaded the summit and is a passionate advocate for free school meals, remarked, “It is commendable that Jenny has decided to have a direct conversation with John Swinney during Cabinet, but they both should understand that we expect action and not mere promises. We can no longer pacify our young people and it’s high time we assessed the government’s progress in this regard to ensure that there is no further repetition of empty promises.”

“Addressing the root of the problem is the main concern here, not just reprieving some debt here and there.”

Liam Kerr MSP, the Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills, noted, “The SNP government had promised free school meals for all P6 and P7 pupils by 2022. Despite two years of progress and considerable dilution in the promise, the government continues to procrastinate. It’s a typical example of the party’s grandiose promises and repeated failures in delivering.”