South Shields MP blasts Government on free school meals change

The Children's Society says children will miss out on free school meals as a result of benefits changes
The Children's Society says children will miss out on free school meals as a result of benefits changes

A South Tyneside MP has condemned benefits changes which a charity claims will see hundreds of children across the borough lose out on free school meals.

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.

This shameful vote will see 1,700 children in South Tyneside already classed as living in poverty miss out on free school meals.

Emma Lewell-Buck

So far, 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.

Tory and DUP MPs backed the changes in a Commons vote – but in Northern Ireland,, the threshold for eligibility will be nearly double that in England, at £14,000.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck MP slammed the decision: “Yesterday in Parliament the Tories and the DUP voted to cut free school meals for English families,” she said.

“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.

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.

Chief executive Matthew Reed said: “There are significant, proven benefits for children’s health, education and their futures in making sure they have a healthy lunch every day, but at least one million children will miss out.

“Continuing to provide free school meals for all children on universal credit would not only help vulnerable children, it would also prevent low income parents being left worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise.

“Universal credit was designed to always make work pay, but these plans will undermine that very principle.

“If the government wants to show it is truly committed to tackling the growing crises of inequality and child poverty, delivering free school meals for children in low-income working families is a crucial step.”

The charity says offering free school meals to all children whose families claim universal credit would see around two million children from poor and low-income families benefit once roll out is completed.