Posted: Sat 2nd Mar 2024

Wrong to scrap ‘lifeline’ free meals in holidays for ‘youngest and most vulnerable in Wales’ says Plaid

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Plaid Cymru has reacted to the announcement by the Education Minister and First Minister Candidate, Jeremy Miles, that support for food for the youngest and most vulnerable children in Wales had been scrapped ‘indefinitely’.

The Welsh Government had been subject to a judicial review after initially providing free meal support for children throughout Covid, and then cancelling this support on the eve of the summer school holidays in 2023.

The High Court has declared that the Welsh Government unlawfully terminated its free school meal scheme during school holidays last year, following a challenge spearheaded by two families, represented by the Public Law Project (PLP).

The conclusion came about without the need for a court hearing, after Welsh Ministers acknowledged their failure to consider the impact of their decision on children and various demographic groups, including disabled individuals, ethnic minorities, and single mothers.

Plaid Cymru has called on the Labour-run Welsh Government to reverse its decision, citing research by charities aimed at tackling the cost of living and child poverty who have emphasised the increasing pressures on families and the effect this is having on children, as well as the Welsh Government’s own data which shows that 28% of children in Wales are living in relative poverty.

The Expert Group on the Cost of Living Crisis, established by the Welsh Government, has also called for schemes that support free meals for children during the holidays to be expanded.

However, in the announcement made on 29 February 2024, Jeremy Miles MS said:

“…given the ongoing financial pressures on the Welsh Government’s budget, the decision was taken not to reintroduce the provision for October 2023 half term and subsequent holidays, and to cease the provision indefinitely.”

Plaid Cymru negotiated universal free school meals for primary school children during term-time as one of its main policies in the party’s Co-operation Agreement with the Welsh Government. Plaid Cymru representatives for both Education and Social Justice have both responded to the cut to support over the holidays, calling for the Labour Government to change its mind.

Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Education said:

“The news that the Labour Government has indefinitely scrapped the scheme to provide food to children in poverty during the school holidays will be devastating news to all those who have previously benefited.

“The Labour First Minister hopeful, Education Minister Jeremy Miles, said that cost is the main reason, which echoes an attitude to poverty that we usually hear from the Conservatives.

“Latest figures show that 28% of children in Wales are living in relative poverty once housing costs have been taken into account, so for many families, the holiday free school meals scheme has been a lifeline. I urge the Welsh Government to reconsider this regressive step.”

Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Social Justice said:

“Charities who support children in poverty say that this winter has been even more difficult than last year for families in poverty, because of the cost-of-living crisis and because so many programmes of support have now disappeared. Even the Welsh Government’s own expert group on the Cost of Living recommended that support for children’s meals throughout the school holidays was expanded.

“Considering all of this, it is incredibly shocking to see the Government not find a way to prioritise this relatively small budget which has such a huge impact on the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable people in Wales.”

Flintshire Council stepped in over Christmas period to provide a £25 payment per eligible pupil to assist families during the holidays.

The council utilised an estimated £129,825 from the hardship fund.

The council adopted a motion submitted by Cllr David Coggins Cogan, 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.

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