PLAID Cymru is calling on the Labour Welsh Government to use portion of unallocated cash from draft budget to extend free school meal eligibility criteria.
By failing to extend the criteria for free school meals, the Labour Government is “refusing” to take steps to eradicate child poverty in Wales, according to Plaid Cymru.
This afternoon, Plaid Cymru is holding a debate in the Senedd on free school meals, in which it has put forward a motion calling on the Welsh Government to use unallocated funds from its draft 2021-22 budget in its final budget to extend the eligibility criteria for free school meals to include all children in families in receipt of universal credit or equivalent benefit, and any child in a family with no recourse to public funds.
Both the Child Poverty Action Group and the Welsh Government’s own review into child poverty found that half of children in Wales living under the poverty line are excluded from free school meals under the current system – more than 70,000 children in total.
The Labour Welsh Government itself calculated that the cost of expanding free school meals to these additional children would cost between £33m to £101m, and the unallocated funds within the draft budget add up to almost £689.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for the Economy Helen Mary Jones said that the Labour Government has “effectively put a price on eradicating child poverty” by referring to a lack of funds as a reason not to extend the criteria even though the money is available.
Ms Jones added that “any compassionate government” would ensure no child goes to school hungry, and reiterated Plaid’s Cymru commitment to do so if elected into government.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for the Economy, Helen Mary Jones MS said,
“Any compassionate government should be ensuring that no child goes to school hungry or to bed cold, yet over 70,000 children living below the UK poverty line in Wales are not currently eligible for free school meals.
“By using a portion of the unallocated cash in their draft budget for this year the Labour Government could expand the eligibility criteria – ensuring those 70,000 children also receive free school meals and taking a significant step to eradicate child poverty in Wales. They are refusing to do so.
“This isn’t about a lack of funds. It’s about a lack of political will. The Labour Government in Wales has effectively put a price on eradicating child poverty.
“A compassionate government would ensure that no child goes to school hungry or to bed cold, and to that end, a Plaid Cymru Government will make sure that none of these children go hungry in school by implementing free school meals for every school pupil, first by extending eligibility for all children whose families receive Universal Credit.”