Surely arguing against free school meals goes against what many Labour MSPs believe is right?

I AM firmly committed to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. The Scottish Government is working hard to improve the lives of children in Scotland and to offer them the best start in their lives.

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Recently, the Scottish Government demonstrated this commitment by announcing that every child in P1 to P3 in Scotland will be eligible to have a free school meal from January next year. This means that almost 17,000 children in Glasgow will be able to have a hot meal at school. It will take away the stigma of having a school meal for those already entitled to them, as it will now be an option that every child can benefit from.

A hot meal in the middle of the day will also help children to concentrate in lessons, increasing their attainment and giving them the very best start in life. It will also improve children's health and wellbeing.

I expected this proposal, which clearly benefits Scotland's children and was supported by the EIS teaching union and prominent charities Shelter Scotland and Children 1st, to have the full support of the entire Parliament.

However, Labour MSPs, including Glasgow representative and Labour leader Johann Lamont, voted against providing free school meals to children. Surely arguing against free school meals goes against what many Labour MSPs believe is right, and the public is rightly disgusted.

The stark difference between the Scottish Government's desire to make Scotland the best place to grow up and the UK Government's harsh austerity is becoming increasingly clear. Last week the Chancellor George Osborne announced that a further £12 billion of welfare cuts will be needed in the first two years of the next Parliament, with housing benefit payments for people under 25 coming under threat.

The Scottish Government published an analysis of figures obtained by the Department of Work and Pensions which showed that if housing benefit payments for people under 25 were stopped, more than 20,000 children in Scotland would be adversely affected.

There is such a high proportion of those under 25 receiving housing benefit who are also single parents that this proposal seems to unfairly target young families, and could leave them with the prospect of homelessness - which is not what the Scottish Government wants for children.

Shelter Scotland have already said that 48% of rent or mortgage payers in Scotland say they are struggling or falling behind with payments and that is without this further cut in housing benefit. This plan needs to be scrapped - otherwise families are in severe danger of being unable to pay their rent. When will the UK Government take action against those who caused the crisis, such as bankers as opposed to young people, single parents and the poorest in our society?

THIS week I will be visiting Malawi and Zambia in my role as Minister for External Affairs and International Development to see how the partnerships between our nations are changing lives for the better.

I will also meet the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay on its journey around the 70 countries taking part in the Games, which will allow me to see the links Glasgow has with the rest of the world.

I know that many schools and churches in Glasgow have links with schools in Malawi, allowing children in particular to make real connections and friendships with other young people, and I am looking forward to learning about the impact this has had on the lives of people in Malawi and Zambia.

I am proud that despite difficult economic circumstances at home, we work hard as a nation to help the poorest in the world.

Surely arguing against free school meals goes against what many Labour MSPs believe is right?

I AM firmly committed to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. The Scottish Government is working hard to improve the lives of children in Scotland and to offer them the best start in their lives.

Recently, the Scottish Government demonstrated this commitment by announcing that every child in P1 to P3 in Scotland will be eligible to have a free school meal from January next year. This means that almost 17,000 children in Glasgow will be able to have a hot meal at school. It will take away the stigma of having a school meal for those already entitled to them, as it will now be an option that every child can benefit from.

A hot meal in the middle of the day will also help children to concentrate in lessons, increasing their attainment and giving them the very best start in life. It will also improve children's health and wellbeing.

I expected this proposal, which clearly benefits Scotland's children and was supported by the EIS teaching union and prominent charities Shelter Scotland and Children 1st, to have the full support of the entire Parliament.

However, Labour MSPs, including Glasgow representative and Labour leader Johann Lamont, voted against providing free school meals to children. Surely arguing against free school meals goes against what many Labour MSPs believe is right, and the public is rightly disgusted.

The stark difference between the Scottish Government's desire to make Scotland the best place to grow up and the UK Government's harsh austerity is becoming increasingly clear. Last week the Chancellor George Osborne announced that a further £12 billion of welfare cuts will be needed in the first two years of the next Parliament, with housing benefit payments for people under 25 coming under threat.

The Scottish Government published an analysis of figures obtained by the Department of Work and Pensions which showed that if housing benefit payments for people under 25 were stopped, more than 20,000 children in Scotland would be adversely affected.

There is such a high proportion of those under 25 receiving housing benefit who are also single parents that this proposal seems to unfairly target young families, and could leave them with the prospect of homelessness - which is not what the Scottish Government wants for children.

Shelter Scotland have already said that 48% of rent or mortgage payers in Scotland say they are struggling or falling behind with payments and that is without this further cut in housing benefit. This plan needs to be scrapped - otherwise families are in severe danger of being unable to pay their rent. When will the UK Government take action against those who caused the crisis, such as bankers as opposed to young people, single parents and the poorest in our society?

THIS week I will be visiting Malawi and Zambia in my role as Minister for External Affairs and International Development to see how the partnerships between our nations are changing lives for the better.

I will also meet the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay on its journey around the 70 countries taking part in the Games, which will allow me to see the links Glasgow has with the rest of the world.

I know that many schools and churches in Glasgow have links with schools in Malawi, allowing children in particular to make real connections and friendships with other young people, and I am looking forward to learning about the impact this has had on the lives of people in Malawi and Zambia.

I am proud that despite difficult economic circumstances at home, we work hard as a nation to help the poorest in the world.

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