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Free school meals roll-out to all primary school children in Wales begins

T

he 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.

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

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

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”.

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

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.

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