In April 2020 the Welsh Government was the first UK nation to guarantee free school meals for eligible families over the school holidays. This policy was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was subsequently subject to several incremental extensions during the ongoing cost of living crisis. The Welsh Government has now confirmed that the policy will not be not be reinstated or extended further.
In response to the news, RCPCH Deputy Officer for Wales, Dr Dana Beasley, 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.
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.
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.