20th June, 2022 12:27 pm
Reception class children in Wales will get free school meals from September – the first in a rollout for all primary school pupils.
All the country’s approximately 272,000 primary school pupils are set to get free lunches by 2024.
It is part of a deal between Plaid Cymru and the Labour Welsh government.
Because of the cost of living crisis, ministers said they were working with local authorities to ensure it was started as quickly as possible.
A total of £225m has been set aside to pay for it over the next three years.
From September, Wales’ 22 local authorities will begin receiving the money, with pupils aged four and five the first to get their free lunches.
Claire, from Newport, who is mum of seven-year-old Flynn, told Radio Wales Breakfast that free meals would be a “boost” to many families.
“When you look at the child poverty in Wales, I think this initiative is very important,” she said.
“There are so many families just above the threshold of receiving free school meals at the moment, and I’m sure they will welcome this, any extra money is a godsend in these times.”
She added that as children got older, becoming singled out for receiving free school meals was a real problem.
“The peer pressure starts to come with what games consoles they have and what holidays they go on, and then of course school meals will be something they talk about.
“That becomes a topic of conversation, for good and for bad.”
The Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd are opposed to the expansion of free school meals. Education spokeswoman Laura Anne Jones said the government should “focus their resources on the students that need it most”.
Years 1 and 2 are due to get them from April 2023 ahead of the full implementation in the 2023-24 school year.
‘So many families under pressure’
In England, children from reception to Year 2 are entitled to a free school meal, but beyond that point it is means tested.
“No child should ever be at school hungry,” said Education Minister Jeremy Miles.
“Given the pressure so many families are under with the increases in the cost of living we are absolutely committed to taking practical measures to support our children and young people.
“Younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, so we are starting with a decent free school meal for children in reception from September, with most children in Year 1 and Year 2 also getting free school meals by next April.”
Plaid Cymru’s Sian Gwenllian called it a “significant intervention” that would “make a real difference now and in the future”.
‘Life-changing for many’
“Not only in terms of tackling child hunger and child poverty, but to progress our wider goals of local food production and supporting local economies,” she said.
“This ambitious undertaking will be life-changing for many and a significant help to families across the country.”
Ms Jones said: “The priority now should be making sure that young people get back on track with their education following the pandemic, getting pupils back into school as Welsh children had the most missed school days over the last two years.
“The Welsh government also needs to explain how they’re going to get Wales off the bottom of the education league tables and end the underfunding of our pupils – where Welsh children are £1,000 worse off compared to other parts of the UK.”
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