MPs have condemned benefits changes a national charity says will see hundreds of children across Wearside miss out on free school meals.
The Children’s Society says around 38,000 children in the North East will miss out under changes to universal credit - including 2,800 across the City of Sunderland.
So far, all families in receipt of universal credit have been automatically entitled to free school meals but the Government is now introducing a means-tested system which means free meals will stop if the family earns £7,400 a year.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson MP chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food: “I am bitterly disappointed that the Government’s proposals to introduce a £7,400 threshold for families on Universal Credit and eligibility for free school meals passed in the House of Commons,” she said.
“This will see over one million children in poverty now ineligible for a free school meal when they transition to Universal Credit.
“It is shameful, even for this Conservative Government, that the poorest children in this country will now miss out on a free, hot and healthy meal in the school dinner hall.
This totally rubbishes the Government’s claim that Universal Credit makes work pay, and risks further damaging the life chances of children in our community.Bridget Phillipson
“I will continue to campaign on this issue until every child in the UK receives a free school meal in the dinner hall.”
Houghton and Sunderland South’s Bridget Phillipson commented: “Free school meals bring clear health and educational benefits, and for many children in poverty, it is their only proper meal of the day.
“This new threshold creates a perverse incentive for families on Universal Credit to take on fewer working hours, as they’ll be financially worse off if they cross this line and are forced to meet the cost of their child’s school meals.
“This totally rubbishes the Government’s claim that Universal Credit makes work pay, and risks further damaging the life chances of children in our community.”
Her Sunderland Central colleague Julie Elliott added: “I’m really worried around a million children are set to lose out on free school meals when changes to Universal Credit are introduced in April this year.
“All children deserve a proper lunchtime meal no matter what their background, so it’s really worrying that these changes will mean that some children from poorer backgrounds will lose out.