Cereal freebies attacked

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
FREE BREAKFASTS should be scrapped for Welsh schoolchildren and the money spent on other priorities such as adult education, a leading councillor has said.

The "freebie culture" has been criticised by Meryl Gravell, leader of coalition-led Caramarthenshire county council. She said all parents should contribute something to the cost of the morning clubs.

Mrs Gravell, who once helped run a breakfast club at Ysgol Yrynys, in Llanelli, said: "I know these clubs work in deprived areas but I'm totally against everything being free. I think something like pound;1 a week would be reasonable.

"My views are shared by the council taxpayer and I've spoken to all parties in the Assembly. You have to make sure money is spent where the needs are - there's huge pressure on adult services with people living longer."

But Mrs Gravell's remarks were condemned by Children Wales, which supports children's rights and campaigns for better services.

"Some parents struggle on incomes of only pound;8-9,000 a year and it's easy to be superior when you're managing on three or four times that," said Lucy Akhtar, development officer for parenting.

"A lot of parents also have issues with debt and homelessness. Some children come from homes where there's turmoil and I think the free element is important in terms of equal opportunities."

The free school breakfast initiative for primaries dates from 2003. After a pilot in 58 community first schools, it was rolled out to others in August 2005.

The scheme is undergoing a three-year evaluation by Cardiff university's Institute of Society, Health and Ethics, which is due to conclude in August.

Early evaluations of the scheme show that, while it has many positive aspects, the clubs are often used by working parents who see them as a form of childcare, defeating some of the object.

Latest figures from the Assembly government show that only 40 per cent of primaries are offering free breakfasts, raising doubts about the popularity of the scheme. Political opponents condemn it as a Labour gimmick to win votes.

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