ALL five to seven-year-olds in English schools will get free lunches, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced at the Liberal Democrat conference this week.
Youngsters in Cheshire schools, such as Lache primary school only a stone’s throw from Flintshire, will be tucking in to their free dinners by September 2014.
But infants studying over the border in Wrexham and Flintshire, such as in Wood Memorial Primary School just yards from the Anglo-Welsh dividing line, may not see the same benefit.
Speaking earlier this week Mr Clegg said: “My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot healthy lunch with their classmates every day.
“Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze.
“I’m determined to do all we can to help put money back in the pockets of these families.”
The initiative, criticised by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank as a ‘gimmick’, is estimated to cost the state £660m and gives an average saving for parents of £427 a child.
In response to the English move, a Welsh Government spokesman urged those already eligible for school meals to take them up.
He added: “It’s important to remember we led the way in the UK with our free breakfast initiative.
“The ‘Free Breakfasts In Primary Schools’ scheme is designed to help improve the health and concentration of pupils and to develop healthy eating habits from a young age.”
The spokesman added that they would continue to press the UK Treasury for details of the funding package.
It’s thought that Wales will benefit from the equivalent funding through the Barnett Consequential (the formula used to balance Welsh budgets with those in England). But there was no indication if this cash boost would go toward providing school dinners.
The Leader asked residents if they thought free school dinners were wanted in Wales.
June Lincoln, 55, of Mold said: “Lower the threshold but don’t give every child free meals. Use the money to raise education standards.
“As an aside, it seems strange it will benefit everyone regardless of income. Richer people will get to keep yet more of their money.”
Nathan Sheady, 29, of Rossett, suspected the move was a cynical one by MPs with an eye on the election in 2015. But Nigel Davies, 36, of Wrexham, said the scheme actually had its roots in Welsh politics.
He said: “I wonder how many people in Wales know this idea came from the likes of Plaid Cymru and SNP 10 years ago.
“Unfortunately Wales is lacking in powers to truly tackle the issue on the threshold (of who is eligible for free meals) as that is forced on to Wales from London.”
Julie Wynn, 51, of Wrexham, said she was all for ensuring children get at least one balanced meal a day.
She added: “I don’t think it should be restricted to people on benefits. Some people on benefits are better-off than those not on benefits.
“We shouldn’t complain. We get free prescriptions while in England they don’t. It’s swings and roundabouts.”
Sharon Parry, 40, of Wrexham, said the quality of school dinners led her to take matters into her own hands.
She said: “I used to pay over £10 a week for my daughter’s school dinner until I saw the slop they served her. Now takes her own in: sandwiches, fruit, crisps and a yoghurt.”
Michelle Tulk, 45, of Wrexham, who worked as a dinner lady, said all pupils needed healthy, balanced diets and school dinners could provide this.
She said: “The children are encouraged to try different foods they don’t always get from home. They add ingredients into food especially puddings so children get their five-a-day. It’s a brilliant idea, I think.”
Jill Jones, 57, from Flint, said all Welsh children deserved free school meals, while Tracy Jones, 42, of Wrexham, answered the question with a simple: “Yes please”.
Kate Witherden, 34, of Wrexham, said: “I’m torn really. I see the advantage of providing a balanced nutritious meal but concerned that in Wrexham, the pupil premium is £450 per child whereas over the border in Cheshire, it’s about £1,500 per child. That’s a massive discrepancy.
“We need to push the Westminster Government to equalise that or allow in the recommendations of the Silk Report for further devolved powers.”
Marie Gibson of Wrexham posted on the Leaderlive Facebook page that she would not support a similar policy in Wales, as those in need already had access to help.
Jewels Morris, 39, of Holywell, said: “It’s unfair that my family is classed as ‘low income’ but because we get topped up with working tax credits, we can’t get free school dinners!”
Louise Caunce, 28, of Connah’s Quay, liked the universal nature of school meals for all.
She said: “All pupils should get free school meals. Me and my husband both work, own our own home and are not entitled to benefits, yet I’m the one struggling to afford school dinners whilst the woman down the road who doesn’t work is not!”
Mike Patchen, 54, of Buckley, said: “Where’s the money coming from to pay for it? Oh yeah I know, more taxes. Why should I pay for next door’s kids school meals?”
But Gemma Gittins, 32, of Bagillt, weighed in, initially believing the measure was unnecessary, but disagreeing with Mr Patchen.
She said: “It’s unbelievable that some people still seem to think they should be accredited for the benefit systems used by those on smaller incomes, or those unable to work.”
Adie Drury, 30, of Buckley, said there was no excuse for a child to go hungry, ever.
She said: “My son has a packed lunch with a drink, fruit, sandwich, small cake and a muesli bar, all for under 70p a day. A packed lunch for a fraction of the price if they can’t afford £2-a-day school dinners.
“We on low incomes get free healthcare, free prescriptions, free dental treatment and tax credits.
“We get child benefit, housing benefit and childcare vouchers. If you can’t afford to feed your children then you need a serious look at your budget.”