Posted: Tue 21st Nov 2023

Flintshire Council steps in with school meals payment during Christmas holiday following Welsh Government cut

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Nov 21st, 2023

In a move to combat food poverty among children, Flintshire Council has approved a £25 payment per eligible pupil to assist families during the Christmas holidays.

The decision, made at today’s cabinet meeting, Tuesday, November 21, will utilise an estimated £129,825 from the hardship fund.

The move comes in the wake of the Welsh Government’s decision to end its support for free school meal provision during holidays and half terms.

The pandemic saw additional funding to support free school meals during these periods, a scheme aimed at addressing ‘holiday hunger’ and assisting families amidst the cost-of-living crisis.

Following the Welsh Government’s announcement, Flintshire Council adopted a motion submitted by Cllr David Coggins Cogan in September, committing to find resources for families on free school meals during the Christmas holidays.

The council also established a working group, which included Cllrs Paul Johnson and Mared Eastwood, to explore sustainable options for future school holidays.

Cllr Mared Eastwood, representing Argoed and New Brighton, voiced her support for the initiative, highlighting the council’s commitment to addressing this pressing issue. The council’s decision reflects a growing concern over child poverty and food insecurity in Wales.

Questions in the Senedd

The urgency of the situation was underscored at today’s Senedd Plenary meeting by Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for social justice and social services, Sioned Williams MS, who urged the First Minister to introduce a “crisis programme” this winter.

She said the upcoming winter will be particularly difficult for families in poverty due to the cost-of-living crisis and the reduction of support measures.

Ms Williams expressed concern over the Welsh government’s decision to scrap the scheme providing food to children in poverty during school holidays, citing budget constraints and the lack of additional COVID-related funds or underspend from free school meals.

This is despite an earlier statement about the absence of funds, over £11 million was later cut from the education budget.

A Welsh Government impact assessment document suggested that money for free meals might be spent by parents on other goods.

Ms Williams described this assumption as “disgraceful,” highlighting the need for prioritising children’s access to food and warmth during the harsh winter months.

In response, Mark Drakeford acknowledged that the upcoming winter will be challenging for families with children, but also highlights the broader financial constraints faced by public services due to insufficient funding.

He said the Welsh government is investing in initiatives like free school meals and free breakfasts in schools, as well as providing annual funding to families to help with school costs.

Mr Drakeford stressed that in a situation with limited resources, the government must prioritise and make decisions aimed at protecting and positively impacting the lives of the most vulnerable families in Wales.

Doctors call to reconsider cut

Last week, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) called on the Welsh Government to reconsider its decision not to extend school meals during holidays.

Dr. Dana Beasley, RCPCH Deputy Officer for Wales, emphasised the critical role of school meals as a lifeline for many families, especially during winter.

She said: “In its own impact assessment, the Welsh Government acknowledges how successful the holiday free school meals policy has been and the positive effect it can have on our wider society. It is therefore deeply troubling to see the Government confirm the policy will not be extended within that very same report.”

Dr. Beasley said: “Child poverty in Wales is on the rise, and with it comes a profound level of food insecurity. For many families, school meals are a lifeline, especially in the dark and expensive winter months.”

“Every day, we see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in our work as paediatricians. It is not unusual for us to care for children who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have access to a substantial meal outside of what is provided in school.”

“Good nutrition is at the heart of health, wellbeing and development for children and young people. Without it, children’s health outcomes worsen, and with that, so do their life chances.”

Dr. Beasley added: “We strongly urge the Welsh Government to reconsider this decision and provide much needed support for families experiencing food insecurity over the winter months and beyond.”

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