Children could lose out as Government changes Free School Meals criteria

Concerns have been raised that some children might lose out on crucial free school meals as the Welsh Government works out new eligibility criteria following the roll out of Universal Credit.

Previously children were entitled to Free School Meals if they came from households that received certain benefits. However Universal Credit aims to combine all benefits into one payment.

Consequently the Welsh Government are re-evaluating who is eligible for Free School Meals, and last week Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced that the Government will introduce an annualised net earned income threshold for claimants wishing to claim free school meals.

Cllr. Rhys Thomas, Plaid Cymru Councillor for Denbigh Lower, warned that some children from households who were previously considered eligible might no longer find themselves eligible and could end up in arrears and subject to harsh sanctions from the Council.

Cllr Thomas said: “We in Plaid Cymru are concerned that the roll out of Universal Credit will continue to hit the most vulnerable families in Denbighshire.

“With Denbighshire County Council continuing to have an aggressive policy for recovering school meal debts we're concerned that families who are hit by the new universal credit system won’t be able to afford to pay for school meals for their children.

“It will take time to work out the eligibility criteria to enable some children to receive free school meals and it’s vital that those pupils are not refused school meals in the meantime.”

New government data released last week shows that the number of children living in absolute child poverty has risen to 3.7 million across the UK. This is an increase of 200,000 in the last year.

Cllr Thomas said: “The reasons given for this increase in the number of children living in poverty were cuts in benefits and tax credits. 70% of the children living below the poverty line have at least one parent in work according to the director of the Child Poverty Action Group.

“Tory austerity continues to hit the most vulnerable in society. Sadly the Welsh Labour Government’s proposals are ‘too little too late’ to defend the people in Wales who are on low wages.”

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