THE Welsh Government has announced that free school meals will continue to be provided to children from lower-income families in Wales during the school holidays until the end of next year’s February half term.
The extension of the provision will support lower-income families through the cost-of-living crisis, as energy and other costs are expected to rise over the winter.
£11m will be provided to fund the support in an agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.
In April 2020, Wales became the first UK nation to guarantee free school meals for eligible families during the school holidays, with meals being provided during the school holidays since then. Individual local authorities decide how to administer the free meal provision by creating lunches or providing vouchers or direct payments to families.
Free school meals are being provided to whole classes of primary school children in Wales from this term as part of the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru’s agreement to provide free school meals to all primary school children in Wales by 2024.
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “We know how difficult school holidays can often be for families, especially during the cost-of-living crisis.
“As a government, we are using every lever available to us to support families that need it most.
“During the pandemic, Wales led the way in the UK by providing free school meals during holidays, supported by an investment of over £100 million.
“Providing meals during the school holidays can make a world of difference to families who need extra support, especially as winter approaches.
“I’m pleased we can extend this support, as we do all we can to lighten the load for families through the cost-of-living crisis.”
Plaid Cymru’s Designated Member, Sian Gwenllian, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is deepening, and families are very worried about the weeks and months ahead. We must do as much as we can to support families at this time, especially those most severely affected by rising costs.
“As well as our joint commitment to ensure all primary children receive a school meal for free, the extended support will make a real difference to families with lower incomes during the school holidays.
“The Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru is delivering much needed support for families to ensure children and young people get the best start in life.”
David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, responded: “NEU Cymru members will be pleased to see the Education Minister’s plans to continue Free School Meals (FSM) into the holidays next year.
“With the spiralling cost of living, it is critically important children receive a healthy meal to help support their wellbeing.
“It is welcome too that the Minister has reiterated the Welsh Government commitment to universal primary Free School Meals by 2023. We believe this is going to be critical to help support children in their learning, and make sure that children have access to a hot meal every day.
“Of course, our members would welcome these commitments go even further, include secondary school children and can support families in the holidays further ahead, but this announcement is one to welcome.”
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