CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Huffington Post
Free school meals eligibility cuts go ahead following vote for universal credit changes – charities claim up to a million youngsters will lose out, the Huffington Post reports.
Tory and DUP MPs have voted for controversial cuts to free school meals in England – despite protecting Northern Ireland from similar curbs.
Labour staged a last-gasp bid to block the changes to universal credit benefit thresholds, but was defeated by 312 votes to 254. Crucially, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which is propping up Theresa May’s government – backed the government. Nine DUP MPs sided with 302 Conservatives.
Charities and other campaigners claim that the welfare reforms mean that up to a million children will be denied eligibility for free lunches.
English families on universal credit will see the income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7,400 a year, HuffPost revealed last weekend.
Yet in Northern Ireland, where the government has just taken direct control of spending budgets, the same threshold for eligibility will be nearly double that rate, at £14,000.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told HuffPost: “Tory and DUP MPs may have forced through changes that will hit the poorest families the hardest, but Labour will continue fighting for decent childcare and opposing the Tories’ decision to deny free school meals to up to a million of England’s most deprived children.
“The next Labour government will extend childcare provision and provide free school meals for all primary school children.”
She added that Labour’s pressure, the conservatives had now been forced to delay closing the childcare vouchers scheme for at least another six months.
“Theresa May clearly now has neither a majority nor a mandate for abolishing childcare vouchers and they must bring any final decision back to Parliament for a meaningful vote.”
The Children’s Society has predicted one million children would be denied eligibility to free school meals under the plans.
Its figure was based on what would happen if current transitional arrangements, which give every family on universal credit the right to free school meals, were rolled out nationwide.
But Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and education secretary Damian Hinds both rejected those figures.
They accused Labour of scaremongering and insisted that 50,000 more youngsters would benefit than at present.
The Children’s Society and the Resolution Foundation think tank have warned that because of the way that universal credit is calculated, parents will face a ‘cliff edge’ where they lose out if they earn a penny over the £7,400 threshold in England.
Those with one child will need to earn an extra £1,100 a year to cover the cost of school meals.
The regions worst affected by child poverty stand to lose the most from the proposed eligibility criteria.
In London 212,000 children are projected to miss out on free school meals, in the West Midlands with 130,000 children and the North West 130,000 children.
At the moment, all children in all households that have been switched to universal credit also qualify for free school meals.
But as many current benefits aren’t eligible for the extra help, the government worries that once the system is rolled out nationally that would lead to a dramatic expansion in the numbers entitled to the hot lunches.
The Government insists that the £7,400 threshold for England is more generous than the current £6,240 threshold for those not yet on universal credit.