One million children living in poverty in England will miss out on free school meals as the Tory government rolls out its Universal Credit proposals, according to findings from The Children’s Society.
And London will be the worst-hit region by the changes proposed by the government, with 212,000 children projected to miss out on free school meals according to the charity’s research.
Today, the GMB, the union that represents school catering staff, has responded to the Department for Education’s consultation on free school meal entitlement under Universal Credit and warned that the government’s proposals will leave children hungry and could cost jobs, describing the plans as a “cut disguised as a kindness”.
As Universal Credit has been rolling out, all families in receipt of the new benefit have been automatically entitled to free school meals. However, the government is planning to introduce means testing for free school meals, which The Children’s Society warns will fail to reach 1 million children in poverty and will create a “cliff-edge” where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.
Figures from The Children’s Society show that once a family with one child passes the £7,400 threshold at which they lose the school meal entitlement, they would need to earn £1,124 a year more, the equivalent of working 2.4 hours more each week at national Living Wage, to make up for the loss in free school meals.
“Continuing to provide free school meals for all children on universal credit would not only help vulnerable children, it would also prevent low-income parents being left worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise,” said Matthew Reed, the chief executive of The Children’s Society.
“Universal credit was designed to always make work pay, but these plans will undermine that very principle.
“If the government wants to show it is truly committed to tackling the growing crises of inequality and child poverty, delivering free school meals for children in low-income working families is a crucial step.”
If the government continued to offer free school meals to all children whose families claim universal credit, around 2 million children from poor and low-income families in England would benefit once roll out is completed. Under the benefits system that universal credit is replacing, only families where parents are working too few hours to claim working tax credits are entitled to free school meals.
The government proposals will mean that just 700,000 of the 1,700,000 school children in poverty who could be helped, will receive free school meals.
And according to the GMB, under the £7,400 household earnings cap, which is due to be implemented in April, only the lowest earning 20 per cent of households would be entitled to free school meals.
“65 per cent of expenditure on free school meals currently benefits households outside this group, which strongly suggests that there will be a significant loss of free school meals entitlement for thousands of pupils,” the union says.
Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, said, “These plans should concern all parents and everyone who works in schools.
“At least one hot, nutritious meal a day should be a fundamental right for all pupils. Instead thousands of kids from deprived backgrounds are now being threatened by a new cut disguised as a kindness.
“GMB members working in schools already encounter children with no food at home, and see packed lunches of no more than crisps or chocolate, because parents are struggling to make ends meet.
“This arbitrary £7,400 earnings cap, which takes no account of household need or the number of children that parents need to provide for, will force people to negotiate down their working hours or leave work altogether just to make ends meet. It makes a mockery of the Government’s claim that it is making work pay.”
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