As one in five of all pupils on the school roll in each of the education districts in west Glamorgan was in receipt of free school meals at the end of September 1983—an increase of 552 pupils on September 1982—what special steps, if any, does the Minister intend to take to ensure that the children of west Glamorgan and of Wales generally will in future not have to endure the level of poverty that is shown so tragically and clearly by the current level of free school meals being claimed in west Glamorgan and throughout the Principality?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the eligibility rules for free school meals vary between authorities. There are wide variations arising from the higher take-up of school meals in rural areas compared with the urban areas. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are statutory safeguards that bear on the way in which local authorities administer the free school meal system, but implementation is a matter entirely for them. I reject the contention that the figures show increased poverty. However, I recognise that there is a high level of unemployment in the area, which will be a contributory factor.
Does the Minister accept that he should reconsider the Government's decision not to have basic minimum nutritional standards for the school meals that are provided? Does he accept that the variation between authorities in the provision of meals is not tolerable?
At a time when resources are admittedly scarce, I think that the removal of centrally determined nutritional standards has enabled local education authorities to provide the sort of food that pupils want and thereby reduce the amount of food wasted.
Based on the annual census taken in the autumn of 1982, the number of pupils receiving a free school meal expressed as a percentage of the total number of pupils taking meals on that particular day in each county in Wales was as follows:
|Number per cent.|