Delyn MP Rob Roberts calls for the Welsh Government to focus on providing additional support and funding to schools in Wales and criticises their decision to provide free school meals for the most well-off families in Wales rather than focusing on those who most need this benefit.
As part of the Labour and Plaid Cymru “Co-operation Agreement” it has been announced that free school meals will be extended to cover all children in Wales aged between four and 11.
It is of the utmost importance that no child goes hungry, and Rob fully supports the policy of providing free school meals to those who most vitally need it. He also agrees with the Children Commissioner for Wales in that the current threshold for qualifying for free school meals is too low and needs to be extended to include all families that are struggling.
However, the Welsh Government’s announcement that the scheme will be extended to cover every single primary school age child in Wales means that even families who are well-off and can easily afford to feed their children, are getting the same benefits as those who cannot.
Rob wants to ensure support is targeted to those who most need it. Free school meals are fundamental to many families in Delyn yet extending the scheme to every child is simply not the answer. A more appropriate solution would be to raise the threshold so that those who are currently missing out on the benefits of the scheme yet need it, are able to do so.
The Welsh Government puts the cost of free school meals at £3.90 per pupil. This means that the additional cost of providing free school meals to every single child in Wales would be around £140m more than the current level of free school meals, equating to more than £110,000 per school per year.
Currently, Wales is falling behind the other UK nations in terms of educational attainment. So instead of providing free meals to families who can easily afford to do so, the Welsh Government could instead use this funding on extra teaching resources to ensure that every single one of our students in Wales receives the best possible education.
“I want to ensure that my constituents continue to be supported as much as possible as a great many families in Delyn benefit from this scheme as I did myself at times all those years ago.
The £140 million cost of extending free school meals to every child - which equates to £114,600 per school per year - could provide three new teachers, six new teaching assistants, or new computer equipment and a vast array of other learning resources to every school in Wales. These extra resources would make a massive difference to students’ education in Wales.
Instead of extending the policy to include everyone, we need a more targeted approach that ensures our most vulnerable families are supported and also ensures that students in Wales receive the best possible education.”