Welsh ministers announce funding boost to extend free school meals in holidays

Elliot Chappell

Welsh Labour ministers have today announced that the devolved government will invest a further £24.1m to ensure that free school meals are available to all eligible children in the Easter, Whitsun and summer school holidays this year.

Speaking on a visit to Ysgol Maes y Felin and Ysgol Treffynnon in Holywell, North Wales, on the eve of Welsh Labour conference, Mark Drakeford warned that the cost-of-living crisis being felt across the UK is “putting families under real pressure”.

“Too many are having to make terrible choices between heating or eating as prices soar. Our Labour government is doing everything it can to help people pay their bills and put food on the table,” the Welsh First Minister said.

“This extra funding for free school meals during the Easter, Whitsun and summer holidays will ensure children get a good meal even when they aren’t in school.”

The funding announced by ministers this afternoon is in addition to the £83m the Welsh government has already invested in securing free school meals provision. More than 95,500 school children receive free school meals across Wales.

Education minister Jeremy Miles commented today: “I want all children and young people in Wales to have access to healthy and nutritious food in school and during the holidays. No one should be going hungry. I’m very proud our Welsh Labour government can carry on the work we started during the pandemic and extend holiday provision through to the end of the summer holidays.

“This funding also includes a discretionary free school meal fund, which will allow schools to provide a free meal to pupils who come to school hungry, including those children who are not normally eligible for free school meals and those who have no recourse to public funding.”

The Welsh Labour government was praised by campaigner and footballer Marcus Rashford for making free school meals available during term breaks at the height of the pandemic. Today’s announcement comes as Wales prepares for the lifting of all legal coronavirus public health restrictions on March 28th.

After a surge during the pandemic, more than one in five children is eligible for free school meals in Wales, representing the highest number since record began in 2003.

Ahead of the 2021 Senedd elections, in which Labour secured 30 of the 60 seats up for grabs, Drakeford’s party promised to “guarantee free school meals, during the holidays too, for all eligible pupils up to and including Easter 2022”.

Welsh Labour has since pledged, in a cooperation deal signed with Plaid Cymru last year, to deliver free school meals for all primary school children within three years. The cooperation agreement sees the parties working together on 46 policies.

The Welsh government and Plaid Cymru said that the policy to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils will be “over the lifetime of this agreement, a further step to reaching our shared ambition that no child should go hungry”.

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