Who could disagree with the statement that no child in Wales should go hungry?
Welsh Government has done some excellent work to tackle food poverty among school children. We are the only country in the UK to provide universal free breakfast in primary schools and have ensured the continued provision of FSMs during the pandemic. Welsh Government was the first in the UK to provide FSMs during school holidays which has now been extended to Easter 2022. Additional funding has also been secured to ensure children who are self-isolating or shielding continue to receive FSMs when unable to attend school.
Despite this, an estimated 70,000 children in poverty in Wales are not eligible for FSMs. Of the four nations of the UK, this is the highest proportion of children in poverty excluded from free school meal provision and represents a clear failure of the existing eligibility criteria. Further action is required. I call on Welsh Government to:
- Extend free school meal eligibility to all children in families receiving Universal Credit or equivalent benefit.
- Extend free school meal eligibility to all children in families with no recourse to public funds.
- Introduce universal free school meals for infants in schools.
- Move towards the provision of universal free school meals.
I recognise that there are cost implications to doing this but there are significant costs involved in not doing it: costs to the health of our children, to families who live in poverty and to the well-being of future generations.
I therefore hope that this matter can be addressed in a cross-party and collaborative way that accepts the basic principle of enhancing the provision of free school meals to ensure that no child in Wales goes hungry. This needs to be achieved as a matter of urgency.