‘It’s an absolute disgrace’ - readers have their say on free school meal changes

Free school meals for thousands are under threat
Free school meals for thousands are under threat

Benefit changes which could mean youngsters miss out on free school meals have brought a mixed response from readers.

The Children’s Society says around 38,000 children living in poverty in the North East will miss out under changes to Universal Credit - including 1,700 in South Tyneside.

Currently, all families in receipt of universal credit have been automatically entitled to free school meals.

But the Government is now introducing a means-tested system which means free meals will stop if the family earns £7,400 a year.

The Children’s Society warns will create a ‘cliff-edge’ where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has condemned the changes.

She said: “The Tories and the DUP voted to cut free school meals. This shameful vote will see 1,700 children in South Tyneside already classed as living in poverty miss out on free school meals.

“This is a sickening new low for this Government, protecting children in Northern Ireland from these cuts so they can continue to cling on to power in Westminster.”

Nine DUP MPs sided with 302 Conservatives to vote through the changes.

.The Children’s Society says a family with one child would need to earn £1,124 a year more, the equivalent of working 2.4 hours more each week at National Living Wage, to make up for the loss in free school meals.

Gazette readers have been quick to have their say on our Facebook page.

Kenny Diamond wrote: “It’s an absolute disgrace. Theresa May is another Thatcher wannabee. It should be the MPs’ expenses that should be stopped.”

Caroline Edwardson added: “It would benefit society long term if every school child was given a well cooked, balanced meal at lunchtime.

“This would also require further training of school meal staff and perhaps an adult sitting at each table with primary school age children to encourage table manners and conversation.”

Lisa Marie wrote: “People seem to forget circumstances do and can change. Why should the bairns suffer.”

But opponents of the changes also came under fire.

Steve Lundell wrote: “This is badly-spun data There is an element of truth due to the interim arrangements whilst we transition to universal credit, but they fail to mention that more children will be entitled to free school meals after these changes than before universal credit was introduced.

Marsha Ashley added: “Shamefully misleading. No one currently eligible for free meals under UC will lose their entitlement and more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.”