2018 Blog – Sharon Hodgson MP – Shadow Minister for Public Health, England
In the week of International School Meals Day, I didn’t think that I would have to stand in the House of Commons and argue that children from low-income working households need access to free school meals.
This comes after the Conservative Government at Westminster consulted on introducing a £7,400 cliff-edge for families on Universal Credit, that would see any families earning over that amount no longer being eligible for free school meals.
The Children’s Society estimate that this would see over 1 million more children in poverty missing out on a free school meal.
This is simply unacceptable and an indictment on this Government’s record on children and poverty.
The £7,400 threshold forcibly creates a cliff edge for working families, who will lose any incentive to take extra hours at work or seek a promotion.
For example, someone with three children in their family who earns just below the £7,400 threshold is set to lose out on £1,200 in free school meals if they work only a few more hours or get a pay rise.
The family’s annual wages would have to increase from £7,400 to almost £11,000 to make up for what they lost by rising above the eligibility cliff edge.
This completely goes against the Government’s commitment to always “make work pay” under the Universal Credit system and will further drive inequality between the best and worst off children in schools.
Sadly, for many children from working and non-working households the only hot and healthy meal they get each day is the one they receive for free at school.
That is why it is important that we ensure that children growing up in poverty are not denied access to a free school meal.
In order to learn, grow and develop, these children need a hot and healthy meal every day, and that is something I passionately believe the Government should provide to all children in schools, not least children growing up in poverty.
I was incredibly disappointed that the Government won the vote and that these changes will take place from 1st April 2018 for all new Universal Credit claimants.
I am always proud to campaign for and defend free school meals, and I will continue to do so until every single child receives a free, hot and healthy meal in the school dinner hall.
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