Free School Meals: More than one million children could miss out after Universal Credit change, says Labour

'These plans will create a dangerous cliff-edge in the Universal Credit system and make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet'

Angela Rayner called the changes to free school meals a 'scandal'
Angela Rayner called the changes to free school meals a 'scandal'

More than a million children could miss out on free school meals following the Government’s changes to Universal Credit, the shadow education secretary has warned.

Children in Universal Credit-claiming families with net earnings less than £7,400 will be entitled for free school meals, Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed yesterday following a consultation.

The Government has claimed that the new threshold will lead to approximately 50,000 more children across the country benefiting from a free school meal by 2022.

But Labour’s shadow education secretary and the Children’s Society charity have said a million children living in poverty will miss out on free school meals under the Universal Credit changes.

Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, said: “It is an absolute scandal that the Conservatives are pressing ahead with a plan that could leave over a million children without a hot meal in schools.

“These plans will create a dangerous cliff-edge in the Universal Credit system and make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet.”

If free school meals were offered to all children whose families claim Universal Credit, around two million from poor and low-income families in England would have benefited, critics have claimed

But under new rules, just 700,000 of the 1,700,000 youngsters in poverty who could be helped will receive free school meals, the Children’s Society has previously said.

Last night, the charity said it was "disappointing" that the Government's proposed changes were going ahead.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, told The Independent that the system needs to be simplified to ensure that less children miss out.

He said: “This doesn’t tackle the central issue that families will still have to prove eligibility before their children can benefit and before schools can receive additional Pupil Premium funding to support them.

“The government must simplify the system that currently means that too many children are still missing out.”

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Mr Zahawi said: “It is right that we must continue to offer the most disadvantaged young people additional help and I am pleased that, following public consultations, we can extend free school meals and the free early education entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

“Tens of thousands more children will be entitled to free school meals by 2022 compared to the previous benefits system.”

He added: “I’d like to thank everyone who responded to these consultations; their views will help to ensure every child can access a world-class education and the support reaches those that need it most.”

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