Welsh Government urged to expand free school meals to secondary school pupils living in poverty
The Welsh Government has been urged to expand free school meals to children in years 7 – 11 of families living in poverty.
In a Senedd on Wednesday (January 10), Plaid Cymru will lead a debate renewing calls for secondary school pupils to receive free school meals if their families are in receipt of Universal Credit with no cap on earnings.
The party say they will also highlight the failures of the Labour Government in tackling child poverty in Wales in relation to educational attainment.
The Welsh Government has committed to rolling out free school meals to all primary school pupils by the end of 2024.
But the government says the cost of extending the offer to secondary school pupils would cost in the region of £28 million per year before extra administration costs.
One in three children live in poverty in Wales – a statistic which Plaid Cymru spokesperson for equalities, Sioned Williams MS says has remained “stubbornly high”.
In noting the correlation between child poverty and the education attainment gap for children in Wales, Ms Williams will cite the latest PISA results and national report which showed that 11% of learners in Wales had missed a meal because of poverty.
During the debate, Plaid Cymru will point to several causes for the high levels of poverty, including the scrapping of child poverty targets and “insufficient support” for families during the on-going cost-of-living crisis.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson for social justice and equalities, Sioned Williams MS, said: “The fact that one in three children in Wales live in poverty should be cause for national scandal.
“But when the Labour Welsh Government scrapped its own targets for eradicating child poverty, and have delayed publishing a new child poverty strategy, is it any wonder that the number remains so stubbornly high?
“In Wales, we are fortunate to have hard working public servants – teachers, social workers, council workers – and third sector workers, all committed to helping the development of our children and tackling child poverty.
“But time and time again their work is undermined by competing budgetary pressures and a lack of clear focus from Welsh Government.
“There is so much than needs to be done, including publishing and implementing a statutory target-driven plan to tackle child poverty, to help close the attainment gap and improve education outcomes.
“Providing more children with a free, nutritious school meal is one way to help level the playing field. That’s why Plaid Cymru is calling for all children in Years 7- 11 whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit – with no cap on earnings – to receive a free school meal. Because poverty doesn’t stop in primary school.
“Tackling child poverty in Wales should be a priority for Labour and they need to do everything in their power to mitigate the devastating effects of poverty on attainment and give every child in Wales the best start in life.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Initial estimates suggest the cost of providing free school meals to all secondary school pupils in receipt of universal credit would be in the region of £28 million per year, and this is before any capital or administration costs.
“The reality of the financial position before us is that our budget is worth £1.3bn less in real terms in 2024-25 than when it was set in 2021, and we have had to make challenging decisions in setting our draft budget.
“As a government, we are using every lever available to us to support families that need it most. Our immediate focus is to extend the roll-out of universal free school meals in primary schools.
“We have also written to local authorities reminding them of their discretion to be able to provide meals without charging and of the expectation no child should be denied an offer of a meal if they turn up to school hungry.”
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