• Free school meals and Universal Credit

    As you know, currently all children living in households that receive UC are eligible for free school meals. However, the Tories have brought forward new proposals to introduce an earnings threshold of £7,400 for all UC claimants from April 2018. I believe these proposals are deeply concerning and I am aware that these changes will affect many families across the UK and in our area.

    I agree that free school meals have significant benefits, as children are more attentive and ready to learn when they are fed a healthy meal. I believe it is a scandal that the Government is pressing ahead with a plan that could leave over a million children going hungry.

    In addition, I share your concern that the proposals will create a dangerous cliff-edge in support, and will make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet. Families should not have to refuse pay rises or avoid extra work for fear of losing their entitlement to free school meals. I believe the Government should step back from introducing this cliff-edge in eligibility and instead introduce free school meals for all primary school children, and all secondary school children whose families claim UC.

    As you may be aware, Labour secured a debate on this subject on Tuesday 13 March and put forward a motion to annul the Government’s proposals on free school meals. Unfortunately, the motion was defeated with the support of Tory MPs.

    Moving forwards, the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee is holding an inquiry on UC and is seeking evidence on how the eligibility for free school meals should be determined. I can assure you I will follow the progression of this inquiry closely. I remain concerned that the rollout of UC is causing real suffering in our communities, which is why at the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to reform and redesign UC. In addition, I believe the Government must provide further investment in UC to ensure that work always pays, and that children and young people are not pushed into poverty.