Free School Meals

While I appreciate the concerns which have been raised given the publicity, please be assured that no Member of Parliament "voted against" free school meals, and that the introduction of Universal Credit provides an opportunity to offer a less fragmented, more fairly targeted system that will ensure more children will benefit.

The suggestion that one million children will lose out on free school meals is misinformed and irresponsible scaremongering by people who should know better. This figure is based on a hypothetical situation where all children in receipt of Universal Credit will receive free school meals. 

Currently in England, Children who are in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are all entitled to free school meals. However the new measures set out by the Government concern children from Year 3 onwards. 

The new measures introduce a threshold for households on Universal Credit of £7,400 per annum to be eligible for Free School Meals. Depending on exact circumstances, a typical household earning £7,400 would have a total income of £18,000 - £24,000 once benefits are taken into account.

It is also important to stress that no one who currently gets free school meals, as part of the early roll out of Universal Credit, will lose their entitlement once the rollout is complete. The people who will be subject to the new threshold will be future Universal Claimants. 

This threshold will deliver a clear and straightforward approach to determining eligibility, and will ensure that eligibility criteria are based on a household's earnings rather than the number of hours worked. 

The Department for Education recently ran a public consultation, seeking the views of parents, schools, local authorities and charities on eligibility for free school meals. In light of this, the Department has introduced transitional protections so that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit. 

Finally more children will be entitled to free school meals under Universal Credit than under the previous benefits system. The Department of Education estimates suggest that by 2022, around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal compared to the previous system. This is absolutely not a case of the Government taking free school meals from a million children who are receiving them as Labour have falsely claimed. 

The Government is committed to supporting children go as far as their talents will take them and I am glad that, following public consultations, we can in fact extend free school meals to more disadvantaged pupils.