LABOUR AM KEN SKATES today called on the Welsh Government to examine the possibility of introducing Universal Free School Meals in Wales.
Speaking in a debate in the Assembly, the Clwyd South AM said despite the introduction of ‘cashless’ systems of paying for Free School Dinners (FSD), the stigma of FSD remained a problem.
The AM said a renewed debate was needed on the introduction of Universal Free School Dinners, believing it could have an important impact on the academic achievement of pupils in Wales.
Clwyd South AM, Ken Skates, said: “We need to look again at the merits of introducing Universal Free School Dinners in Wales as a way of raising academic achievement and tackling the stigma of those who currently receive financial help.
“Instead of rolling out cashless systems, at a considerable cost in terms of IT procurement and staff training, perhaps we should take the natural next step in tying together our education and health objectives with the adoption of Universal Free School Dinners.
“The Assembly’s Children and Young People Committee has previously advocated that this idea be looked at by the Welsh Government and I believe that introducing it in areas like North East Wales could have significant impacts.
“The benefits of universal healthcare and education, free at the point of delivery, is well understood. When you are in the Wrexham Maelor you are not billed for the medicine or food that will make you better yet why then, are children in my constituency being billed for dinners, which are of critical importance to their learning?
“Such an approach would be affordable because of the economies of scale involved, would help in boosting the local produce used in our schools and raise the academic performance of those children from areas of Wrexham and Denbighshire who miss out on a nutritious lunchtime meal.
“In Hull, where studies into the benefits of universal FSD have taken place, 80 per cent of teachers reported having more focused classes and better results. “It is our moral duty to protect children and I believe that provides the most powerful argument in favour of Universal Free School Dinners.”