Free school meals for all pupils 'would remove stigma'

School meals Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Schools and councils are having to decide how to respond if parents run up school meal debts

Giving free school meals to all pupils in Wales would remove the stigma, a group of councillors has said.

Anglesey's audit committee said it would also help local authorities who are having to pursue parents for debts.

However, the council's head of resources Marc Jones said a new cashless system should make it less obvious which children did not pay.

The Welsh Government said councils could offer free meals to all pupils if they made enough room in their budget.

A report by council officers said they could only offer "limited assurance" over Anglesey's school income collection arrangements.

They found some schools were still operating a manual paper system while others took payments using mobile phone apps, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Councillor Bob Llewellyn Jones, vice-chairman of the committee, said a revamp of the system could help.

"Over the years, this council has written to the assembly requesting free school meals for all Welsh pupils," he told the committee on Tuesday.

"I think, like free subscriptions, it would be beneficial for the children as the stigma can be there forever when other kids know who receives the free school meals."

At present, one in six Welsh pupils - just over 76,000 - is eligible for free school meals.

However, all state-funded schools in England have a legal duty to offer free meals to children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

In Scotland they are available to all pupils in primary years 1 to 3.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We want to use public money as effectively as possible, and ensure that those who are most in need are supported.

"Extending eligibility for free school meals to include all children - not just those from the lowest income families - would need greater financial investment.

"This would mean savings would then have to be made elsewhere."

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