‘A cut disguised as kindness’ – concerns over free school meal reforms

SecEd reports that serious concerns have been raised that planned government reforms to free school meal (FSM) entitlement under Universal Credit will mean thousands of families living in poverty will lose out.

The Department for Education (DfE) claims that its proposals will protect any pupils who would otherwise lose entitlement to FSMs under Universal Credit. Furthermore, it claims that up to 50,000 more young people should be eligible for FSMs once Universal Credit is fully rolled out.

However, in recent weeks both the Children’s Society and the GMB union have raised serious concerns about the potential impact of the reforms.

General secretary Tim Roache labelled the plans as “a cut disguised as kindness”.

The Children’s Society, meanwhile, believes that one million poor children will lose out under the new threshold and that a “cliff edge” will be created whereby many families would be better off taking a pay cut in order to keep FSM entitlement.

However, the DfE wants to introduce means-testing for FSMs under Universal Credit. Its proposal is to change FSM eligibility criteria to base it on a household’s net earnings, rather than the number of hours worked as is currently the case. A household’s net earnings would not include their additional income through benefits.

As such, the plans would see a net income threshold of £7,400 per year before benefits are taken into account. This would be introduced in April this year.

However, the GMB claims that under the £7,400 threshold, only the lowest earning 20 per cent of households would be entitled to FSM. Its analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics shows that 65 per cent of expenditure on FSM currently benefits households outside this group.

Read more about FSMs ‘A cut disguised as kindness’ – concerns over free school meal reforms

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