‘Totally wrong’: Shadow minister condemns free school meals proposals
The Welsh Conservatives have attacked plans to roll out free school meals to all primary school children in Wales, describing the proposals announced by First Minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price at a joint press conference yesterday as “totally wrong”.
The policy is part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru and will see free school meals extended to all primary school pupils over the next three years.
Yesterday’s announcement confirmed £25m is being invested in school kitchen and dining infrastructure and from September some of the youngest children in primary schools will begin receiving free school meals as the policy is phased in.
The Tories claim the introduction of free school meals will see the children of rich families being fed on the taxpayer and have also raised concerns about the impact the proposals could have on the Pupil Development Grant.
The grant is aimed at children from the most deprived backgrounds and eligibility for free school meals is currently a key means to determine who receives it.
Pupils currently eligible for free school meals can apply for a grant of £125, which increases to £200 for those entering year 7, recognising the increased costs associated with starting secondary school.
Responding to yesterday’s announcement, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister Laura Anne Jones MS said: “At a time when there is a cost-of-living crisis, it is totally wrong for Labour and their nationalist partners to collude to give free school meals to the children of millionaires when it has never been more essential to target support at those who need it most.
“Labour and Plaid’s desire to chase headlines has also blinded them to the implications this would have for those from deprived backgrounds as it distorts how the Pupil Development Grant is allocated. If this goes ahead, we need a new formula to determine who needs that extra money.
“It is abundantly clear that Labour and Plaid are totally out of touch, have no interest in addressing the underlying reasons that lead to people needing free school meals, and do not have the interest of the poorest in society at heart.”
Confirming the proposals yesterday, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Together we have made a joint commitment that no child in Wales should go hungry and that every child in our primary schools will be able to have a free school meal.
“We are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. We know younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, which is why the youngest of our learners will be the first to benefit.
“This cost-of-living crisis is being felt by families all over Wales – extending free school meals is one of a number of measures we are taking to support families through this difficult time.”
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said that from “talking to other parents” it was “very clear that families need as much support with living costs as possible, especially given the additional financial challenges people are currently facing”.
“It is an important step towards fulfilling one of our key pledges in the Co-operation Agreement and an example of how constructive joint working is making a real difference on the ground.
“This new capital funding supports the start of the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children. It is also part of a wider agenda to use those powers we do have in Wales to tackle child poverty, which affects a third of our children.
“Removing the stigma associated with having a free lunch will mean that children receive a healthy meal at a formative stage in their development – hungry children cannot learn or achieve their true potential. Together, we’re delivering for Wales and making a difference.”
Revenue funding of up to £200m has been set aside for local authorities to deliver the commitment, with £40m to be provided in 2022-23, £70m in 2023-24 and £90m in 2024-25.
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