Free School Meals and Universal Credit

Thank you to those constituents who have contacted me prior to the debate on eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit in the House of Commons today (13 March).

The proposed changes to the eligibility criteria have been designed to ensure that support is targeted where it is needed most, meaning that those on the lowest incomes remain the focus of free school meals.

The suggestion that one million children will lose out on free school meals is misinformed.  This figure is based on a hypothetical situation where all children in receipt of Universal Credit receive free school meals, which was never the intention.

When Universal Credit was introduced, the Government were clear that they would set a new criteria for free school meals. To ensure that no one was adversely affected during its rollout, the Government temporarily made Universal Credit a qualifying benefit for free school meals, regardless of income. As was made clear at the time, this was always an interim measure.

If all children in families receiving Universal Credit were to become eligible for free school meals, around 50 per cent of all school aged pupils would be eligible. Instead, free school meals are rightly targeted at the children who need them most, with around 14 per cent of children eligible for, and claiming, free school meals last year.

The Department for Education recently ran a public consultation, seeking the views of parents, schools, local authorities and charities on eligibility for free school meals. In light of this, the Department has proposed transitional protections so that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit.

By 2022, an extra 50,000 children will therefore be eligible for a nutritious meal at school compared to the previous benefits system.

The Government’s approach will mean that:

If you receive a free school meal now – you will continue to do so until the end of the rollout of Universal Credit, planned for 2022, and then to the end of either primary or secondary school (whichever you are in at this point).

If you receive a free school meal during the roll out of Universal Credit – you will continue to do so until the end of rollout of Universal Credit, planned for 2022, and then to the end of ether primary or secondary school (whichever you are in at this point). 

The Government is committed to ensuring that disadvantaged young people are able to access a free nutritious meal at school. Since 2010, we have extended the availability of free school meals to disadvantaged students in further education and introduced universal infant free school meals. The introduction of Universal Credit offers a less fragmented, more fairly targeted system that will ensure more children will benefit from free school meals.

The Education Secretary's response to the debate can be found here: https://goo.gl/q3nmxE