Union members can help stop one million children in England being denied the free school meals they need.
UNISON is urging members to get behind the latest campaign by the Children’s Society and urge their local MP to speak out against new regulations on universal credit which will cut eligibility for free school meals for children living in poverty.
The charity points out that free school meals exist to provide children with a proper meal when food may be tight at home. For some children, this may be the only healthy cooked food they get. For others, it can be their only meal of the day.
Eligibility depends on whether their parents receive certain benefits. Universal credit has gradually been replacing these old benefits and covers families where adults are both in and out of work.
Up until now, children in any family receiving universal credit have qualified for free school meals. If that continued, almost every child in poverty would receive a free school meal by the time universal credit is fully rolled out, currently expected to be 2022.
But the government wants to clamp down on that with a new rule from 1 April this year which would mean that children in any family on universal credit in England would stop being entitled to free school meals if their parents earned more than £7,400 a year.
When the 2010-15 coalition government introduced universal credit, it said the aim was to make sure that work always pays. But now low-paid families could see their children’s free school meals taken away if the parents take on extra hours or get a pay rise.
Instead, they would have to pay out around £400 a year for every one of their children in school – no small sum if you’re already on low pay. And it mounts up – a family with three children would be £1,200 worse off every year.
And on top of that, one million children in poverty, who could benefit from free school meals, now won’t.
“No child should be going hungry, yet the government is missing the chance for one million young people living in poverty to have a nutritious school meal,” says UNISON national secretary Jon Richards.
“The government promised that it would make ‘work pay’, instead it is penalising thousands of working parents on low incomes, who will lose out if they earn more than £7,400 a year.”
That is why UNISON is backing the Children’s Society call for the government to scrap the changes and continue providing free school meals to children from families receiving universal credit.
The new regulations are likely to be discussed in Parliament during March. UNISON is asking members in England to contact their MP and ask them to speak out against the change.
Your can find out more about the issue on the Children’s Society website, which includes an interactive map showing how many children will lose out in your local area because of the change, as well as answers to a series of frequently asked questions.