29 April 2021

With one week to go until the Scottish elections, Scotland’s political parties have now each laid out their commitments to the public in their manifestos. To the delight of Magic Breakfast, all five of the main parties have published a written commitment to school breakfasts – a powerful testament to the cross-party consensus that every child should be able to receive a nutritious meal before the bell rings.

The need for such hunger-focussed commitments has rarely been greater. Before COVID-19, an estimated 24% of children (230,000 children) in Scotland were living in relative poverty after housing costs. Since the pandemic began, food insecurity has only increased, with: 60% of families relying on social security reporting struggling to pay for food during the pandemic; an additional 53,000 children registering for free school meals; and a 62% increase in the number of children accessing foodbanks in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

Magic Breakfast’s mission is to ensure no child starts the school day too hungry to learn, and a key aspect of this is campaigning for government action on school breakfasts. In the lead up to Scottish Elections, we compiled an in-depth, research-based policy brief for each of the parties to put forward urgent manifesto recommendations.

From the outset, we understood most parties would already be committing to rolling out free school breakfasts in all Scottish primary schools. However, there was no mention of special schools. As such, we first advocated that each party extend their bold breakfast provision pledges to further include all children in state-funded special schools.

The research supporting this recommendation was indisputable. Children attending special schools face a disproportionately high risk of poverty and hunger, with 63% of pupils attending special schools in Scotland coming from SIMD Deciles 1-4, compared to 35% in primary schools and 41% in secondary schools. What’s more, evidence shows children attending special schools achieve poorer educational outcomes than those in mainstream schools, and also face a higher risk of obesity – two key areas that regular, nutritious breakfasts have been proven to directly and positively tackle.

Most parties had also not mentioned secondary school breakfast provision.  To address this gap, we recommended a pilot project to refine school breakfast provision in secondary schools. Again, the supporting research was strong. Classroom hunger affects children of all ages, yet Magic Breakfast analysis found that out of 32 local authorities, only 7 currently offer school breakfast provision support to secondary schools. By comparison, 23 local authorities provide school breakfast provision to primary schools. A pilot project was therefore needed to explore effective breakfast provision strategies for this age group, with a view to informing the successful universal roll-out of secondary school breakfast provision in the future.

After constructive meetings with Magic Breakfast, the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives have both taken onboard our recommendations. Specifically, the SNP has committed to provide free, nutritious breakfasts to all schoolchildren in state-funded primary and special schools across Scotland, including during the holidays, and to piloting free school breakfasts in secondary schools. Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to provide free breakfasts to all children in state-funded primary and special schools in Scotland if elected. The Scottish Greens have gone even further and pledged that if elected, they will introduce universal free breakfast clubs across all schools in Scotland.

Scottish Labour meanwhile pledged to fund free school meal provision including breakfast clubs, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats committed to ensuring primary children have breakfast before the school day begins. Although neither party has explicitly adopted our recommendations for the inclusion of children in special schools, Magic Breakfast welcomes their commitment to school breakfasts and is hopeful they will extend their support to more vulnerable children in the future.

The manifesto commitments made demonstrate that Scotland’s main parties are not only listening to the urgent conversations surrounding child morning hunger, but are also promising to act. With such inclusive, progressive pledges being made, the Scottish political parties are laying the foundations for a future Scotland where every child, no matter their start in life, will have an equal chance to learn, grow and flourish.