To mark National School Meals Week, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the Welsh Labour Government for refusing to give free school meals to all infants in Wales, despite being given money that would allow it to do so.
The Liberal Democrats in Government introduced this policy in England, which was successfully implemented at start of this school year. The move will save the average family £400 a year per child; a welcome ease to household budgets. The Liberal Democrats have also announced a manifesto commitment to expand the policy to all primary school pupils.
The Welsh Labour Government has received over £64m in funding as a result of this policy in England, but despite numerous calls from the Welsh Liberal Democrats they have refused to use it to replicate the policy here in Wales. As a result, 103,360 infants in Wales are missing out on a free, healthy school meal. Were the policy extended along the lines of the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment, 269,421 primary school pupils would benefit.
Aled Roberts AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister, said:
"While infants in England tuck into free healthy meals every lunchtime thanks to Liberal Democrats in Government, Welsh infants are missing out because of the Welsh Labour Government.
"A free school meal for every infant would undoubtedly improve attainment in those crucial early years. In pilots of this scheme, pupils receiving free meals were found on average to be two months ahead of their peers in areas where free school meals were not offered. They also showed how the children's social skills were broadened, and that sitting down for a meal every day helped teach good table manners.
"The Welsh Labour Government has been given money it could use to replicate this excellent policy in Wales, yet they have refused to do so. Despite Scotland having followed England's lead, the Welsh Labour Government continues to use free school breakfasts as an excuse not to implement this vital policy. This is despite only around 24% of primary age pupils benefitting from free school breakfasts, where our policy would be far more wide-reaching.
"While the parents of infant children in Wales will continue to pay £400 a year on school lunches, those in England are getting meals for free. The benefits from guaranteeing a hot, healthy meal for every infant in Wales are clear - so why aren't Labour introducing this policy and helping with the cost of living?"