Over the past couple of days the Tories have made bold claims about Labour and The Children’s Society’s position on free school meals. They’ve claimed that we’re “scaremongering” and accused us of spinning the numbers.
But it’s not us that are full of spin: it’s them.
So here’s the truth behind the Tories claims, one by one.
Heidi Allen MP: “I am disappointed in the Children’s Society. Its suggestion that one million children will lose free school meals is simply not true”
Under the regulations that the Government pushed through, one million children will miss out on free school meals.
Here’s why: currently, a transitional policy is in place, which means that all families receiving Universal Credit are eligible for free school meals. The Tories have now changed the eligibility. From April 2018, any new family will need to be earning less than £7,400 in order to qualify for free school meals.
The Children’s Society has been told that their one million figure is supposedly wrong because it is based on a premise that never existed, as the Government were never intending to roll out the transitional policy.
But this is about more than sticking to regressive policies pledges no matter what; this is about doing what is right and fair for children that are living in poverty, now and always.
The truth is, is that had the Government continued with the transitional policy that’s currently in place, one million children in poverty would have access to free school meals in the future.
This point is as important as ensuring that children from the poorest families are protected now. If the Tories continued with the transitional policy, all the babies and toddlers who are currently living in poverty would be eligible for a free school meal by the time they are of school age.
Now, because of the changes the Tories pushed through, they might not be able to access a free, hot meal anymore.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey MP: “No child who currently receives meals [will] lose their entitlement”
In their consultation on the eligibility for free school meals, the Department for Education said that while they expect the vast majority of pupils currently eligible for free school meals to remain so, they know around 10% will lose their eligibility.
McVey’s promise that those already in receipt of free school meals would be afforded protection clearly isn’t true.
On the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP claim that there will be around 50,000 more children who will benefit from a free school meal, there are two important points to consider.
Firstly, this is a prediction by the Department for Education for the year 2022; the year when Universal Credit is fully rolled out. It doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be thousands more children eligible for free school meals this year.
Secondly, the Department have refused to show how they’ve worked this out, so there is absolutely no way to check its accuracy.
The Children’s Commissioner has released a briefing on free school meals which argues that under any scenario, many hundreds of thousands and possibly well over a million children living in poverty are already not receiving free school meals and the health and educational benefits they bring.
The fundamental point remains: the Conservatives aren’t doing enough to support children living in poverty to access free school meals and it is a downright lie for them to suggest otherwise.
Perhaps if they put as much effort into helping children as they do spinning figures and hiding behind technicalities, no child would go hungry.
Angela Rayner is the shadow education secretary and Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth