'No child should go hungry' - Free school meal roll out to all primary children begins

A major scheme which will eventually provide free meals to all primary school children in Wales launched today. ITV News' Rhys Williams reports.

The roll-out of universal free school meals to all primary children has begun, with reception age pupils the first to benefit.

Children aged between four and five who are starting school will be offered the meals from this month onwards.

It is part of a phased expansion of school meals to all primary school children in Wales by 2024, around 272,000 children.

The scheme was one of the key commitments in the Labour and Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement signed last year.

Mark Drakeford with Sian Gwenllian, Plaid Cymru spokesperson (left) and cooking charge Suzanne Trusslove. Credit: PA

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he hoped the joint policy would help families deal with the cost-of-living crisis.

"No child should go hungry," Mr Drakeford said.

"Extending free school meals to all primary schools is one of a number of measures we are taking to support families through this difficult time.

"We know younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, which is why the youngest of our learners will be the first to benefit."

Plaid leader Adam Price said that "giving children a more equal start in life and helping families make the weekly budget go further has never been more important".

'Absolves able parents of responsibilities'

The Welsh Tories have criticised the plans for including even the children of millionaires.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: "Welsh Conservatives don't think any child should go hungry, which is why we believe in targeting our limited resources and free school meals towards those who need help.

"However, Labour and Plaid’s universal plan is wrong because it includes millionaire families who can afford to feed their children, spending taxpayer money where it isn't needed and absolves able parents of responsibilities when they can fulfil them.

"Labour and Plaid’s desire to chase headlines has also blinded them to the implications this would have for those from deprived backgrounds as it distorts how the Pupil Development Grant is allocated.

"If this goes ahead, we need a new formula to determine who needs that extra money.

"There is a cost-of-living crisis and we need every single penny of public funds to be targeted at where it is most needed, which Labour and Plaid’s blanket approach fails to do."

The move is part of Welsh Labour's co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru Credit: PA Images

Schools in eight local authorities including Newport, Ceredigion, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Pembrokeshire, Conwy, Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire have from this week begun offering meals to all students under the age of seven.

Others have extended the scheme already to year one while Caerphilly Council plans to extend the meals to year two pupils from November.

Many are looking to complete the roll-out to all children from next September.

Currently in England all children from reception class to year two in state-funded schools are entitled to a free lunch.

In Scotland free school meals are offered to children in years one to three, but there are plans under way to extend this further.