THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has a unique opportunity to make sure that children from low-income families don’t go hungry, writes Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation.
Each year, around one in six of Wales’ school pupils claims a free school meal because their parents receive a benefit such as Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support. At around £2.50 a go – £12.50 a week per child – this is quite a big help.
And the benefits of a nutritious midday meal are not just financial: a decent meal contributes to better concentration in the afternoon and ensures low income children have better diets too.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT CHANGES
The introduction of Universal Credit means that new rules about who can get a free school meal are needed. Universal Credit is set to be in place for new claimants in all parts of Wales by the end of 2018. The process of switching existing claimants to UC will take place gradually from 2019.
Universal Credit is paid to families where someone is working as well as families which are out-of-work. This means that the old rules for getting a free school meal can no longer be used.
In anticipation of this, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order in 2013.
Put simply, this piece of secondary legislation enabled the children of all recipients of UC to receive a free school meal, irrespective of circumstances, while the benefit was being rolled out.
In practice, the numbers of children who benefited from the new rule were likely to be very small as the roll-out of UC doesn’t apply to claimants with children.
As Universal Credit is set to be rolled-out to all types of households, including those with children, the UK Government is cutting back on eligibility.
The plan is that children in families receiving UC which have an income from work of more than £7,400 will not be eligible for a free school meal.
The move has prompted a row in the House of Commons about the UK Government allegedly ‘taking away’ free meals from a million children, with equally furious counter claims.
It’s worth checking Channel 4’s Full Fact for the details, however.
CHANNEL 4 FULL FACT ANALYSIS
There’s some respectable maths behind Labour’s claim that a million children will lose out on free school meals after the government introduces a means test.
But they haven’t mentioned two key points:
- No one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.
- In fact, under Universal Credit, 50,000 more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.
This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them: it’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios. Both of them are more generous than the old benefits system.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN WALES?
Universal Credit, as everyone knows, is not devolved. But free school meals are. It is for the Welsh Government to decide who can receive a free meal.
Provision is already less generous in England, where all infant pupils get a free meal regardless of their families’ income. The question is whether the Welsh Government will follow the same route as the UK Government for children in families receiving Universal Credit.
WHAT ABOUT THE COST?
Because the UK government has limited the eligibility for free meals in England there’s no Barnett consequential to help cover the cost of increasing eligibility in Wales.
But that is no reason to make Wales’ poorest children pay.
Aneurin Bevan famously said in 1949 ‘the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism‘. And on this he was right.
At the same time as Wales’ least well-off children have to pay £12.50 a week for a dinner, there’s free bus travel on the Traws Cymru service for anyone, a subsidised canteen for Assembly Members and government officials, and free swimming for over-60s.
If you had to choose who got the freebie, who would you select?
Any change to the rules will be via an order to be considered by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.
If the Welsh Government is serious about the well-being of future generations, there is not better case for investing in the health and education of Wales’ children than this.
Examination crisis: teacher’s predicted grades to be given to students
THE Welsh Government has announced today (Mon, Aug 17) that AS, A level, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate and Welsh Baccalaureate grades in Wales will now be awarded on the basis of Centre Assessment Grades.
This occurred after the outrage of students, causing protests outside the Senedd after hearing that a total of 42% of A-level grades predicted by their teachers had been lowered when the Welsh results were published last week. This was due to the decision to process these grades through an algorithm.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she took the decision to maintain confidence in the system.
Speaking on the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “Working with Qualifications Wales and WJEC we have sought an approach which provides fairness and balances out differences in the standards applied to judgments in schools.
“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding Centre Assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales.
“I am taking this decision now ahead of results being released this week, so that there is time for the necessary work to take place.
“For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales, will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.
“For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand.
“Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK.
“However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.
“These have been exceptional circumstances, and in due course I will be making a further statement on an independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.
“Other Awarding Bodies across the UK are involved in determining the approach to vocational qualifications. This continues to be the case but it is important that I give assurance to GCSE, AS and A level student at the earliest opportunity.”
This was a decision welcomed by Suzy Davies, Shadow Education Minister.
Commenting on the Decision, Suzy Davies said: “This has been an exceptional time, and this news will come as a very welcome relief for the thousands of A-Level students who last week were looking at grades lower than they were predicted to receive. It will also be a relief to pupils expecting results this week as well as an acknowledgement of quite how much effort teachers put into this.
“It is reassuring that the Minister has listened to the Welsh Conservatives and other parties in the Welsh Parliament, but especially pleasing that she heard the voices of young people up and down the country.
“These students – at A, AS, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate, and Welsh Baccalaureate level – will now have the confidence to plan their future education or career aspirations, and reach their potential.”
The Education Minister also promised an independent review of the events “following the cancellation of this year’s exams”.
Students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.
Swansea University appoints new governing body Chair
Swansea University is pleased to announce that Bleddyn Phillips has been appointed as its new Chair of Council.
Mr Phillips, who joined the University’s governing body in May 2017, has been appointed Chair for a four-year term replacing Sir Roger Jones, whose term of office came to an end in September 2019.
Mr Phillips said: “It is a great honour to be appointed Swansea University’s Chair of Council. As a Welsh-speaker, with strong roots in Llanelli and Gower, and with both parents having studied at Swansea, I have long felt an affinity with the University and have been delighted to serve on the Council.
“I want to acknowledge the contribution made to the University by Sir Roger Jones over almost 14 years and I very much look forward to working with, and serving, the University as it celebrates its centenary in 2020 and beyond.”
Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said “It will be a privilege to work with Bleddyn as we develop our new strategic plan and look forward to beginning our second century in 2020.”
Mr Phillips is a lawyer by profession, a former commercial director at oil companies BP and Total, and later Global Head of the Oil and Gas practice at the international law firm, Clifford Chance LLP. He is Director of Llanelli Scarlets RFC and was a trustee of the Wales Millennium Centre from 2012-2018.
The Council is the University’s governing body, which approves the mission and strategic vision of the University, long-term academic and business plans, key performance indicators and overall standards. The Council assures that the University discharges its duties in accordance with the Welsh Quality Assessment Framework.
Experts attack Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban plan
PROMINENT academics have criticised the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a public debate at Swansea University.
Tonight, experts from the fields of sociology and criminology and parenting studies poured scorn on the plan during an Academy of Ideas debate on state intervention in the family.
A panel of three academics discussed the merits or otherwise of the smacking legislation, which is due to be debated by AMs for a third time in January next year.
Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University and outspoken critic of the Scottish smacking Bill, said: “No longer treated like citizens, as adults who have an opinion and a basic level of autonomy to raise our children, we have culture change imposed from on high – we are made ‘aware’ by the new authoritarians holding the stick above us.
“The smacking act is a disgrace. It is a form of brutality that undermines parents, weakens the meaning of freedom, and will go on to destroy many loving families who dare to think and act differently to the modern elitists.”
Dr Waiton added: “The brutality of the smacking act will mean that a light smack on the hand or bottom of a child will be a criminal offence. Hard smacking is already illegal, but to the middle-class anti-smacking zealots that was not enough. Children, they argue, need equal protection from assault. The very language they use is alien to the millions of parents who occasionally smack rather than assault their children.
“Parents know that smacking a child is a form of discipline often done out of love and concern rather than something that is abusive and criminal.”
Criticising the way politicians at the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have engaged with parents on the smacking legislation, he said: “The new elite think a lot about consultation and inclusion. The reality is a process run by a small section of society, politicians and professionals, who exist in their own bubble and are distant and disconnected from ordinary people.”
Ellie Lee, Professor of Parenting Research at the University of Kent also spoke out on the Welsh Government’s plans.
“Within the context of an authoritative child rearing relationship, aversive discipline including smacking is well accepted by the young child, effective in managing short-term misbehaviour and has no documented harmful long-term effects.”
She added: “It should be the concern of professionals who work with parents to respectfully offer them alternative disciplinary strategies rather than to condemn parents for using methods consonant with their own, but not the counsellors beliefs and values.”
The Professor accused the Welsh Government of using the “full force of the criminal law to attack people who disagree on the comparative merits of using smacking rather than something like timeout”, saying it is a “bureaucratic imposition on parents”.
Only one academic – Dr Gideon Calder, Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University – spoke in favour of Government interventions like the smacking ban.
Dr Calder argued that intervention is justifiable in some instances and said something like the smacking ban is not necessarily authoritarian. He said: “the point of the legislation is to safeguard children from potentially harmful interactions.”
Commenting on the debate, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign, said:
“The criticism levelled at the Government’s smacking plans tonight by experts in the fields of sociology, criminology and parenting studies should be a wakeup call to Ministers.
“Experts are not convinced that the plan to outlaw parental smacking is viable, needful or helpful in terms of improving child protection.
“I hope AMs hear the concerns of these academics as well as their constituents and scrap the smacking ban bill when it’s voted on in January.”
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