Labour politicians in Bath & North East Somerset have been slammed for scaremongering over the future of free school meals for children from low-income families.
At a Full Council meeting last Thursday, 22nd March, Councillors agreed to calls for greater action to encourage more families who are eligible for free school meals to take them up. This proposal was supported by the majority of Councillors, including Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but not by Labour Councillors.
Earlier this month, the Labour Party was called-out by Channel 4’s FactCheck website for claiming that up to a million children could have their free school meals taken away under changes being made by the Government.
Challenging Labour’s claims on Twitter, C4 News FactCheck stated: ‘No child currently receiving free school meals under Universal Credit will have them taken away.’
In recent years, the Government has temporarily relaxed the criteria for free school meals by making all those families receiving Universal Credit eligible for free school meals whilst the Universal Credit system has been rolled-out, regardless of income.
Under the new eligibility scheme being introduced by the Government, 50,000 more children will still receive free school meals than under the previous system operated by the last Labour Government.
Whilst this new criteria will be rolled-out for new claimants, no families already receiving free school meals under Universal Credit will be affected by the changes.
Conservative Councillor Michael Evans (Midsomer Norton North), who moved an amendment to the Lib Dems’ original motion on Free School Meals and which was accepted by the Liberal Democrats, said:
“It’s disappointing that Labour Councillors couldn’t support a cross-party initiative calling for more action to encourage those families entitled for free school meals to take them up.
“Instead, we once again had Labour politicians scaremongering over the provision of services to children from low-income families.
“Just as with the recent false claims about schools losing money under the new funding formula, the claim that children receiving free school meals will have them taken away has been exposed as plain wrong and will simply worry local parents needlessly.
“No family currently receiving free school meals through Universal Credit will lose their entitlement, and under these changes 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal than under the previous system operated by the Labour Government.
“What the Government is doing is reintroducing income-based eligibility for free school meals, having temporarily relaxed the criteria the past few years whilst Universal Credit has been rolled-out. But this will only be for new claimants – nobody currently receiving free school meals under Universal Credit will be affected, and there will still be more children receiving free meals than under the previous system.”
B&NES Cabinet Member for Children & Young People, Councillor Paul May, added:
“The biggest issue we face is making sure that all those eligible for free school meals are aware of their entitlement and take it up. National figures suggest that only 65% of those entitled to free school meals actually take them up, and so this is something the Council will be looking at how to improve with schools and Government.”