Young people join the first minister to increase take up and reduce stigma of free school meals

Two young ‘Food Ambassadors’ will join First Minister Prof. Mark Drakeford AM at Cardiff West Community High School to present their Children’s #Right2Food Charter at the launch of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry’s final report.

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is the first attempt to directly and systematically seek the views of children and young people living in poverty across Wales and the rest of the UK. It has spent 12 months investigating children’s food insecurity in each of the four UK nations, and the project’s final report pulls together direct input from hundreds of young people, the frontline staff, academics and experts.

The inquiry reveals that a priority issue for young people in Wales is free school meals and that urgent action is needed to by the Welsh Government to radically reform school food policy. Instead of ensuring that children in families on a low income receive a nutritious meal, in Wales, the reality is that many children living in poverty are not actually eligible. 55,000 children living in poverty in Wales are missing out on free school meals. Children who are eligible are not taking up their entitlement and the evidence of this inquiry provides us with a unique perspective on why this is the case, especially through Welsh Ambassadors, Beth and Fayeth from Prestatyn High School.

For every child who is eligible and doesn’t take their Free School Meal entitlement, schools miss out on £1,150 of pupil development grant. This is money that can provide extra teaching support, school equipment, additional enrichment activities or enhancement of school facilities. Parents of children in reception and year 7 may also miss out on the pupil deprivation grant access fund, £125 additional funding to help with the costs of new uniform and school trips.

Fayeth Jones, 12, from Rhyl; and Beth Rhodes, 12, from Prestatyn who were consulted as part of the inquiry will call for a new, independent Children’s Food Watchdog to lead the charge on tackling children’s food insecurity in Wales, and have made a short film about free school meals that in their roles as young Food Ambassadors for the Children’s Future Food Inquiry.

The #Right2Food Charter included in the report presents the Inquiry’s young ‘Food Ambassadors’ (aged between 10 and 18 years) own recommendations for loosening the grip of food poverty on children in the UK and improving their access to enough nutritious food. Their key proposal is for a new Children’s Food Watchdog, which will stand as an independent body with children and young people involved in its leadership.

Fayeth Jones, 12, from Rhyl, said: “I am a young carer and a volunteer at my local foodbank. Everyone should have the same chance in life and not go through food poverty. Everyone should know about healthy diets and should be educated that not everyone can afford to get food.”

Beth Rhodes, 12, from Prestatyn, said: “Last year I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I had to learn a lot about food and nutrition in a short period of time. Food nutrition for young people is really important in all areas of their lives, from school, to home, to ensuring children have a balanced diet during the school holidays”.

Katie Palmer from Food Sense Wales who is supporting the Welsh element of the Inquiry said: “This report has shown us that policy makers simply aren’t hearing the scale of the challenge. Statistics on poverty, despite their gravity in Wales, can never have the same impact as the voices of these young ambassadors. They have drawn into sharp focus real, lived experience and offered policy makers solutions too. We must all listen. Food Sense Wales commits to working closely with partners in Wales and the UK to ensure the Children’s Right to Food Charter is actioned”.