Our recovery from the pandemic must tackle the poverty and inequalities laid bare by Covid

'Plaid Cymru has consistently called on the Welsh Government to take action on the scandalous levels of child poverty in Wales - the highest level of all the UK nations'

Sioned Williams is a Member of Senedd for South Wales West, and Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Social Justice and Equalities.

Our recovery from the pandemic should not be a neutral process. It must be transformative – with the eradication of the poverty and inequalities laid bare by Covid at its heart.

Reaching the end of pandemic is something we all strive towards, but while we might be travelling in the same direction, our journeys towards that finish line have not all been equal.

Alongside the public health emergency, we have witnessed a crisis in our economy, a social care crisis and, in the way that certain groups have been hit harder by the pandemic, a human rights crisis.  

Because, whilst the pandemic does not discriminate, its impact certainly does.

And it’s this change, this focus on addressing the impact of poverty, that requires new ways of working. We, as a party, have long campaigned to tackle one of the most devastating effects of poverty – child hunger – and this is why the issue has been at the forefront of our discussions with the Welsh Government.

We know that people from Wales’s most deprived areas are more likely to be in poor health than people from more affluent areas and consequently, are more susceptible to the deadly effects of coronavirus. Crucially, the pandemic widened financial inequalities in Wales: data shows that thousands of people in Wales who were still employed were living on less money than before the pandemic.

Set this against rising cost of living, a household debt crisis, and the cut in Universal Credit uplift, and the result is that families have been forced to spend less on food.

The health gap mirrors the wealth gap, and it’s our children who have experienced the worst impacts of the pandemic and poverty.

As we strive towards our freedom from the pandemic, the words of Nelson Mandela come to mind: “Freedom is meaningless if you cannot put food in their stomachs.” 

A hungry child cannot learn. A hungry child is far more likely to suffer from anxiety and severe stress. A hungry child is on the back foot on their educational journey from the moment they set foot in a school.

Back in October 2020, the Child Poverty Action Group found that over half of children in Wales who live below the UK poverty line are not entitled to free school meals – that’s over 70,000 children. 

Feeding hungry children is a vital step to treat the symptoms of poverty. The benefits of a free school meal extend far beyond preventing a child from hunger – a regular nutritious meal can improve a child’s performance at school, and their health in general, thereby redressing some of the injustices and inequalities caused by poverty.

Plaid Cymru has consistently called on the Welsh Government to take action on the scandalous levels of child poverty in Wales – the highest level of all the UK nations, highlighting and championing the research and passionate support for expanded free school meal provision by an array of anti-poverty campaigns and organisations in Wales and beyond.

The Covid crisis has enabled us to take stock of what really matters and reminded us that when we are presented with an opportunity to bring about positive change, we should seize it.

Because Plaid Cymru believes that our recovery from the pandemic should not be a neutral process. It must be transformative – with the eradication of the poverty and inequalities laid bare by Covid at its heart.

It is in that spirit that Plaid Cymru enters into a co-operation agreement with the Welsh Government – to use our position of privilege as elected Members to make a tangible difference to the lives of those we represent.

And the transformation we are proud to bring about is to feed our hungry children.

Thanks to Plaid Cymru, all primary school pupils in Wales are now set to receive a free school meal. I hope this will be a first step towards universal free school meals for all pupils and I will continue to campaign for this.

We’ve said before that children going hungry in school should be headline news.

We’re proud now that the headline will be for the right reason – we’re going to feed our hungry children.

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