CHILDREN in reception classes across Wales will get free school meals from September.
The Welsh Government has announced that all reception class children in Wales will be the first to receive free school meals from September as it plans to roll out the scheme to all primary school children by 2024.
The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru say they are committed to implementing the scheme as quickly as possible in response to the rising cost-of-living crisis, and are working with local authorities to ensure the offer is rolled out as quickly as possible. £225m has been committed to secure its delivery over the next three years.
From September, Welsh Government will fund local authorities across Wales to begin rolling out their offer of a free, nutritious school meal, starting with their youngest learners.
Most schools in Wales will be ready to commence the roll-out in September to ensure that children across Wales can benefit from the offer as soon as possible.
This will mean that most children in reception classes will start receiving universal primary free school meals from this September.
By April 2023 the majority of children in Years 1 and 2 will also start receiving free school meals, with local authorities given the flexibility, support and funding to start delivering free school meals to those in Years 1 and 2 earlier than April if they can.
This first year of delivery will focus on building the capacity of schools to deliver this increased offer and will aim to ensure that, by the start of the Summer term, most pupils in Reception and Years 1 and 2 will be able to have a free school meal. Those in older years who are eligible for free school meals won’t be affected by the roll out of the universal scheme.
Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language said: “No child should ever be at school hungry. Given the pressure so many families are under with the increases in the cost-of-living we are absolutely committed to taking practical measures to support our children and young people.
“Our new programme of universal free school meals for primary children is one of the key ways we are looking to help families. Younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, so we are starting with a decent free school meal for children in Reception from September, with most children in Year 1 and Year 2 also getting free school meals by next April.
“I want to thank our local authorities and schools for working with us so constructively over the past few months to help make this a reality.”
Designated Member, Siân Gwenllian from Plaid Cymru, added: “This is the beginning of the roll-out of a significant intervention that will make a real difference now and in the future – not only in terms of tackling child hunger and child poverty, but to progress our wider goals of local food production and supporting local economies.
“No child should go hungry and our overriding objective is to reach as many pupils as quickly as possible, especially given the unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. From September thousands of additional children will receive free school meals.
“This ambitious undertaking will be life-changing for many and a significant help to families across the country – showing how by working together we’re delivering for Wales and making a real difference on the ground.”
The announcement has been welcomed by Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Jane Dodds.
She said: “This is an extremely welcome development that should go some way towards addressing the extremely high child poverty rates in Wales.
“It is however disappointing to see the Welsh Conservatives take such an incompassionate approach to the subject.
“By making free school meals universal we not only remove the high administrative costs in means testing the scheme, but also the stigma attached to free school meals.”
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