It’s a move which antagonists have labelled as pulling the rug from under hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged families and under changes, critics maintain more than one million children who had previously been entitled to free school meals could have to go without.
However, the Government maintains the questionable strategy will, in fact, mean an additional 50,000 children will be eligible as battle lines were drawn in the Commons when MPs were asked to decide on the changes.
The Labour competition had requested for the vote but the party was defeated by 312 votes, including those cast by south Essex MPs and amongst those was John Baron, Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay, who has strongly supported the Government.
He said: “The proposed changes to the eligibility criteria have been designed to ensure that support is targeted where it is needed most, meaning that those on the lowest incomes remain the focus of free school meals.
“The opposition is saying that we are taking away free school meals from children. This is incorrect. No child will lose their meals during the rollout of Universal Credit as a result of these changes.
Evidently, Government policies mean an additional 50,000 children will be eligible for a nutritious meal at school by 2022 and the opposition’s claim that the reforms could leave over a million children without this is misleading.
Under the changes, the Government wants to propose a means test for those on Universal Credit which would mean claimants with net earnings up to £7,400 will be entitled to free school meals.
Families are currently able to claim free school meals if they are on Universal Credit, as a component of a set of steps to ease the change to the brand-new benefits policy and when Universal Credit was introduced, the Government was clear they would set new guidelines for free school meals.
Furthermore, to ensure that no one was negatively affected throughout its roll-out, the Government tentatively made Universal Credit a qualifying perk for free school meals, regardless of income and this was evidently made apparent at the time, this was supposedly always an interim measure.
The Government’s strategy will mean that if you get a free school meal now you will continue to do so until the end of the rollout of Universal Credit, planned for 2022, and then to the end of either primary or secondary school, whichever you are in at that point.
Conservative Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris further attacked the Labour Party of incorrectly maintaining the Government voted to take away free school meals from one million children.
This is totally a bogus claim and the downright spreading of ominous reports from the Labour Party which is a troubling development which will frighten claimants and in some instances may even prevent them coming forward for money they are eligible for to help their families.
For the competition to be deceiving the people in such a calculated way is shocking and it will create a precarious position in Universal Credit, where families would be better off earning less in order to qualify for free school meals.
Many people, including MPs, wrongly assume that all children in hardship already get free school meals.
That is not at present the situation, but under the interim protections under Universal Credit, there would be, and those million kids would qualify for that benefit but it’s through this additional enactment that they’re yanking the rug from underneath those families.
The current policy would serve over a million more kids than under the policies that were voted. However, The Department of Education maintains it predicts that by 2022, about 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal opposed to the previous benefits policy.
The move is one of four Government policies that Labour has asked for a vote on in the Commons and there are plans to stop childcare vouchers and alternatively use the tax system, as well as moves to free childcare for two-year-olds and additional changes to Universal Credit.