‘A mil­lion kids could miss out on free school meals’ Labour ac­cuse gov­ern­ment of ‘pulling rug’ from un­der poor

Middleton Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - DAN BLOOM

ABIG change in who is and isn’t el­i­gi­ble for free school meals is com­ing – and cam­paign­ers say up to a mil­lion children could miss out.

The shift in the rules for Universal Credit comes in on April 1.

It has prompted an out­cry, with Labour warn­ing the gov­ern­ment is “pulling the rug” from un­der poor kids, our sis­ter pa­per the Mir­ror re­ports.

Cam­paign­ers say that even­tu­ally, up to a mil­lion children who would have ben­e­fited will now get noth­ing.

Yet the Tories have ac­cused Labour of “scare­mon­ger­ing” and in­sist no child will sud­denly lose their hot lunch.

So who’s right – and more im­por­tantly, will it af­fect your children? WHAT’S THE POL­ICY? Cur­rently all fam­i­lies on Universal Credit can claim free school meals.

This of­fer was de­signed as a tran­si­tional mea­sure, to help peo­ple as they move to the Gov­ern­ment’s new six-in-one ben­e­fit.

It’s more gen­er­ous than for the rest of the pop­u­la­tion, who get guar­an­teed free meals only in in­fant school – Year 1 and Year 2.

But now, un­der a new law, children in Year 3 and above on Universal Credit in Eng­land will NOT nor­mally be el­i­gi­ble if their par­ents earn more than £7,400 in a year.

The change takes ef­fect on April 1 2018. It was passed in a House of Com­mons vote this week, by Tory and DUP MPs.

WILL MY CHILD LOSE THEIR FREE SCHOOL LUNCH?

If they al­ready get free school meals, then the short an­swer is no. If you’re al­ready on Universal Credit, your child’s free lunches won’t dis­ap­pear on April 1, no mat­ter what you earn.

If you are al­ready on Universal Credit, your child is en­ti­tled to free school meals no mat­ter what – for now.

That will not change af­ter the pol­icy comes into ef­fect, even if your earn­ings tip over the £7,400 thresh­old.

In­stead, your child will be will be pro­tected un­til March 31, 2022, or “the end of their phase of ed­u­ca­tion”, whichever is later.

So if they’re in pri­mary school they’re cov­ered to the end of Year 6, and if they’re in sec­ondary school they’re cov­ered to the end of Year 11.

This is for children al­ready in school. If you have a baby now, they won’t be guar­an­teed a free school meal be­cause they won’t have signed up it by 2022.

If you aren’t on Universal Credit yet, but are mov­ing to it in fu­ture, you are af­fected.

If you earn more than £7,400 a year, your child will NOT be el­i­gi­ble for free school meals.

If you earn less than £7,400 a year, your child WILL be el­i­gi­ble for free school meals.

Where it gets in­ter­est- ing is if you’re un­der the £7,400 thresh­old now, but then tip over it later by get­ting a bet­ter-paid job.

If this hap­pens, your child will re­main el­i­gi­ble un­til March 31, 2022, or the end of their “phase of ed­u­ca­tion”, whichever is later.

When writ­ing this guide, we couldn’t find any firm de­tail about what hap­pens if you stop claim­ing Universal Credit en­tirely.

How­ever, the pro­tec­tions above ap­ply ex­plic­itly to peo­ple who are hit by the new law – in other words, peo­ple on Universal Credit but whose earn­ings are above £7,400.

The law is all about peo­ple on Universal Credit; if you leave a ben­e­fit, you tend to leave en­ti­tle­ment to things as­so­ci­ated with that ben­e­fit.

HOW WILL YOUR EARN­INGS BE CAL­CU­LATED?

The £7,400 refers specif­i­cally to net earned in­come, so it’s the amount you take from jobs, in­vest­ments etc – NOT ben­e­fits – in a year.

The gov­ern­ment says a fam­ily earn­ing £7,400 but still on Universal Credit could be tak­ing home a to­tal of £18,000 to £24,000.

There will be monthly checks on peo­ple’s in­come, ver­i­fied from “the most re­cent Universal Credit as­sess­ment pe­riod”.

If this can’t be done, it will be based on data from the pre­vi­ous two or three as­sess­ment pe­ri­ods.

Guid­ance will be given to schools and coun­cils on how to con­duct el­i­gi­bil­ity checks.

The in­come thresh­old within one as­sess­ment pe­riod (a month) is £616.67. WHY IS IT BE­ING AT­TACKED?

The Children’s So­ci­ety has said the “huge step back­wards” means “one mil­lion children in poverty, who could ben­e­fit, now won’t”.

The Shadow ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary An­gela Rayner has ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of “pulling the rug” from un­der poor fam­i­lies.

The GMB union says the “cruel school din­ner cap” will leave thou­sands of fam­i­lies with the choice of cut­ting their hours or their children’s meals.

That is be­cause the £7,400 thresh­old is a “cliff-edge”. Earn £7,399 and your child gets free meals all year. Earn £7,401 and they get noth­ing.

The GMB also warns there are no plans to raise the cap with in­fla­tion, so the prob­lem will get more acute year by year. The thresh­old is ac­tu­ally writ­ten into the law so the law would have to be changed to raise it.

WHAT DO THE TORIES SAY?

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Damian Hinds said the gov­ern­ment never in­tended to give ev­ery child on Universal Credit a free hot meal. Do­ing so would cost more than £3bil­lion a year ex­tra by 2022, he said.

Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary Es­ther McVey ac­cused Labour of “scare­mon­ger­ing”.

The gov­ern­ment stresses that by 2022, it ex­pects 50,000 more children to have free school meals than un­der the pre­vi­ous ben­e­fits sys­tem.

A big change in who is and isn’t el­i­gi­ble for free school meals comes into force on April 1

Shadow Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary An­gela Rayner ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of “pulling the rug” from un­der poor fam­i­lies

Sec­re­tary of State for Work and Pen­sions, Es­ther McVey claimed that the Labour party were ‘scare­mon­ger­ing’ on the is­sue

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