End Hunger UK campaigns to ensure that all children receive adequate nutrition 365 days a year. That is why we have supported efforts to end holiday hunger. The current government is now proposing to change the eligibility rules for free school meals. In an article originally posted on the Children’s Society blog, Scott Compton explains why this is a worry – and what you can do.
For children from poorer families, the guarantee of a decent lunch each day can make a huge difference. Free school meals are intended to provide children with a proper meal when food may be tight at home. For some children this may be the only healthy cooked food they get – for others it can be their only meal of the day.
Eligibility for free school meals is determined by access to certain benefits. Universal Credit has gradually been replacing these old benefits, covering families both in and out of work. But government changes to Universal Credit will leave a million children who are living in poverty in England missing out on free school meals.
Why is this a huge step backwards?
Up to now, all families receiving Universal Credit have been eligible for free school meals. If the government was to continue this policy, almost every child in poverty would receive a free school meal once Universal Credit is fully rolled out (expected by 2022).
Instead, the government wants to introduce a new earnings limit from 1 April 2018, so that any family on Universal Credit earning more than £7,400 a year won’t be eligible for free school meals. This is a huge step backwards. Not only does it mean that those one million children in poverty who could benefit now won’t, it also fundamentally undermines one of the main reasons for introducing Universal Credit in the first place: to ensure that ‘work always pays’.
The new rules will create a situation in the future where many working families will be punished for taking on extra hours or accepting a pay rise because they would have their free school meals taken away. These are worth around £400 a year per child – a huge sum if you’re on a low income.
How we can stop this
We are calling on the government to continue their current policy of providing free school meals to all children on Universal Credit. This would help to ensure that almost all children in poverty receive at least one decent meal each day.
We may still have a chance to stop this. We believe the government’s changes will soon be discussed in Parliament – ask your MP to speak out against them.