Welsh Tory Leader suggests it isn’t ‘sensible’ to extend free school meals in Wales
The Leader of the Welsh Tories has suggested that it is not “sensible” to give all primary school children in Wales free school meals.
Andrew RT Davies argued that “solicitors, estate agents and accountants” should not benefit from them and said he “would be grateful to understand the budgetary implications”.
The policy to extend free school meals forms part of a wide-ranging cooperation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government.
In response to Davies, the Mark Drakeford made the case for universal services, and argued that means testing “casts a stigma” over the people the system is meant to help.
He also said that richer families “should pay” for free school meals “through the taxation system”.
Andrew RT Davies said: “On free school lunches, which is a central policy of the agreement that you’ve reached with Plaid Cymru, I’d be grateful and I’m sure many others would be grateful to understand the budgetary implications of this policy and to try and understand how it balances up with the need for those with the broadest shoulders to make the biggest contributions.
“I’m not sure it’s a sensible policy area where you have solicitors, estate agents and accountants benefiting from having free school lunches when the system already allows for those on challenging income positions to receive those free school lunches as they rightly should.
“I think the cheers in St Andrew’s Crescent in Cardiff, knowing that now they’re going to benefit from free school lunches, isn’t a good use of valuable public resources, to say the least.”
‘Fundamentally different view’
Mark Drakeford replied: “We have a fundamentally different view on the issue of means testing and universal services. I think school meals is in some ways the paradigm case for the impact that means testing has, because it casts a stigma over those people for whom the system is meant to be a beneficiary.
“I remember a very old story, Llywydd, which my colleague Jane Hutt and some others here will remember.
“The former leader of South Glamorgan County Council, Lord Jack Brooks, used to tell a story about how, as an 18-year-old, he went out to a dancehall here in Cardiff, all dressed up for the night, and he saw a young woman coming across the room to him and he thought that maybe his evening was going to be more successful than he had originally anticipated, and this young woman came up to him and said, ‘I know you’, she said, ‘You’re Jack Brooks, aren’t you?’ and he said, ‘Yes’, and she said, ‘You’re the one who used to have free school meals when we were in primary school together.’
“And even at that age, the hurt that that caused him had never left him and it must have been 50 years later that he told us that story and it was still vivid, you could tell in the way that he told it.
“And that’s why, on this side of the Chamber, we believe that universal services where there is no stigma attached—. And of course the people in St Andrews Crescent should pay, but they should pay through the taxation system, a graduated taxation system that takes more back from people who have more to start with, not means test the service so that those people who really need it don’t get the service they really need, they get all the disadvantages that go alongside it.
“My colleague Rebecca Evans will set out the budgetary implications; we’ve made proper budgetary provision for the policy set out in the agreement.”