Fears are growing that many Huddersfield children are in danger of losing their free school meals under controversial benefit changes.
Around 98,000 children living in poverty in Yorkshire and the Humber will miss out on free school meals under Universal Credit proposals, new estimates from The Children’s Society have revealed.
And now Colne Valley MP Thelma Walker , a former headteacher, believes the changes could have a major impact here – and she says some children are so hungry they pop food in their pockets at school to eat at home.
As Universal Credit has been rolling out, all families in receipt of the new benefit have been automatically entitled to free school meals.
However, the government is planning to introduce means testing for free school meals under Universal Credit, which The Children’s Society warns will fail to reach close to 98,000 children in poverty in Yorkshire and the Humber and will create a ‘cliff-edge’ where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.
Figures from The Children’s Society show that once a family with one child passes the £7,400 threshold, they would need to earn £1,124 a year more, the equivalent of working 2.4 hours more each week at national living wage, to make up for the loss in free school meals.
Mrs Walker said: “Children who need free school meals now will still need free school meals once they have been means tested through Universal Credit. Those families are means tested now, surely the Government must realise this.
“When I was a headteacher teaching in a deprived area of Kirklees, we often provided additional food to make sure that no child went hungry. Unfortunately, we have seen a dramatic rise in teachers having to feed children and have heard cases of children filling their pockets so they had something to eat at night.
“In Kirklees over 7,200 primary and infant school aged children and over 5,000 second school aged children are entitled to free-school meals and are taking them daily. This will have a dramatic impact on those families, especially if they have two children receiving the meals.
“We have said the Secretary of State should freeze the roll-out of Universal Credit in Kirklees time and time again. He has done it for the Prime Minister in Maidstone so why not Kirklees. I will be seeking urgent assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that Universal Credit won’t impact those who are getting a free school meal.“
The Children’s Society is asking supporters to submit responses to the consultation via its website at: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fsm .
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The fact is over 50,000 more children will be entitled to Free School Meals through our eligibility proposals following the rollout of Universal Credit. It’s right that we make sure this support reaches children from the most disadvantaged families and we’re consulting on this issue to make sure that’s the case.”