The Children’s Society has said it is “deeply disappointed” at the government’s decision to continue with its plans to set an income cap of £7,400 for eligibility of Free School Meals (FSM) under the new Universal Credit system.
The government had published a consultation on its plans late last year but last week published its decision to press ahead with the plans, despite thousands of people opposing the cap. More than 8,000 people responded to the consultation with The Children’s Society, calling for all families receiving Universal Credit to be eligible for FSM.
“We are deeply disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with plans that will see one million children in poverty miss out on free school meals under universal credit,” said Clare Bracey, director of campaigns at The Children’s Society. “This will disadvantage poor children from working families and mean some parents will be better off taking a pay cut.
“We would also welcome a response from the Minister explaining why the Department for Education has left the views of more than 8,000 people, who responded to the consultation with The Children’s Society, out of its analysis of the consultation responses. Disregarding the voices of thousands of people who feel strongly that all school children on universal credit should get a free school meal gives a highly skewed picture of support for the government’s policy and makes a mockery of the consultation process.”
The government said the earnings threshold is the “fairest and most practical way to ensure that children from the lowest-income families receive FSM”.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called the move an “absolute scandal”, while Barbara Crowther, children’s food campaign coordinator at Sustain called it a “cruel blow”.
“Many of these families may be working in temporary or unpredictable jobs, or on zero hours contracts where earnings may vary from one month to another, so determining eligibility could also become a costly and bureaucratic nightmare as family earnings fluctuate,” Crowther said. “The fairest and simplest solution would have been to ensure all children in families under Universal Credit should have been eligible for Free School Meals. We are dismayed that ministers in the Department for Welfare and Pensions appear to have turned a deaf ear to all the expert organisations and many thousands of individuals who expressed their concerns about the impact of these proposals for the health and nutrition of vulnerable children.”