In Brief

Children to ‘go hungry’ after free school meals cuts

Tories face backlash for exempting Northern Ireland from reforms which could affect one million children

The Government is facing a backlash from parents after controversial changes to benefits which could cause as many as one million children lose their free school meals.

Under the new legalisation, English families on universal credit will have their income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7,400 a year.

The cuts mean around 212,000 children in London stand to go hungry, 130,000 in the West Midlands and another 130,000 in the North West.

Sam Royston of the Children's Society writes in The Guardian that the total number of children who lose out could be as high as one million, the majority from working class families.

Once a family with one child passes the £7,400 mark, it will need to earn an extra £1,000 a year, working 2.4 hours more each week at the national living wage, to cover the cost, he says.

Royston also cites research which found “loss of free school meals is a major disincentive to work, with six out of 10 parents admitting it has an impact on their decision to move into work or take on additional hours”.

Changes to free school meals, which had been in the Conservative election manifesto, were quietly dropped after the election, but now the party has been accused of trying to bring them in by the back door.

One area of Britain which seems to be protected from free school meal cuts is Northern Ireland, where the Government has just taken direct control of budgets and where the same threshold for eligibility will be nearly double the rest of the country, at £14,000.

HuffPost UK says this has led to “fresh criticism” of Theresa May’s alliance with the DUP and prompted claims the Government is seeking to “buy” support for its legislative programme.

“The Government’s inconsistency in applying the Universal Credit cut highlights a lack of real vision at the heart of our leaders’ policy,” says Evolve Politics.

“In order to get the requisite amount of votes for a deeply unpopular policy, they are reduced to exempting Northern Ireland from the fallout of that policy so that the DUP can vote it through for other areas. The perverseness is astounding,” adds the news site.

A last-minute series of votes tabled by Labour aimed at blocking changes to universal credit benefit thresholds and mitigating the effects of the cuts was defeated yesterday.

Whatever the economic rationale behind the move, it never looks good for the party in power to be seen to be taking food away from children – as Margaret “milk snatcher” Thatcher found out in 1970.

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