Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has expressed outrage at local MP Mark Pawsey’s support, in the House of Commons, for an income cap on households of £7,400 (or an income of more than 18k including benefits, £350 pw) to qualify for free school meals “Last Tuesday, MPs voted on government proposals which will take a free hot meal away from around one million children from low income families according to the Children’s Society charity”, TUSC spokesperson Pete McLaren told us today. “The Tories and the DUP joined together to ensure that, from April 1st, children from families on Universal Credit will no longer be eligible for free school meals if their parents earn more than £7,400 pa. This is outrageous. At present, all families on Universal Credit can claim free school meals.
“Our Rugby TUSC Treasurer Julie Weekes wrote to Mark Pawsey last week before the vote, but in the event he was one of the 312 MPs to vote for the new income cap on free school meals
Julie Weekes told us “I expressed my concerns to Mr Pawsey that over 15,000 children in poverty in Warwickshire alone would lose their entitlement to a free school meal. I pointed out that goes against one of the founding principles of Universal Credit: to always make work pay. The “Welfare that Works” white paper that introduced Universal Credit said that ‘people will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn’.
“However, the new free school meal rules will mean the opposite. If you’re earning just under the threshold, taking on extra hours or getting a pay rise could make you worse off as you’ll find yourself having to fork out for your child’s lunches. And if you’re earning just over, you could be better off taking a pay cut. Many thousands of families could be caught in this free school meal “trap”.
“To be fair to Mark Pawsey, he replied to me the next day. But he didn’t really answer my points. He said that suggesting one million children would miss out on a free meal was incorrect because it was based on a hypothetical situation where all children in receipt of Universal Credit would receive free school meals. He claimed that 50,000 more children will benefit from free school meals than at present. He also claimed that under the Governments ‘transitional arrangements’, whilst claimants are transferring onto Universal Credit, that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement.
“Mr Pawsey is wrong. There is no ‘hypothetical situation’. When launching Universal Credit, Mark Pawsey’s own Government boasted that all children in receipt of it would be entitled to free school meals. Also, Mr Pawsey is wrong when he says 50,000 more children will benefit than at present. As Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner pointed out when moving the Labour motion in the Commons, whereas under the Governments ‘transitional arrangements’ those one million children would be entitled to free school meals, they would no longer be so-entitled once the new £7,400 cap was enacted. That is the crux of the argument. The Tories are definitely not extending the entitlement to free school meals to more disadvantaged children as Mark Pawsey claimed in his response. I am very disappointed with his reply,” she concluded.
Pete McLaren added “The Tories are using Universal Credit to cut the welfare bill, and they don’t seem to care if that pushes more and more families into poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that, by 2022, 37% of British children will be living in relative poverty, the highest % since modern records began in 1961. That will be 5.2 million children, despite Britain being the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. These figures tell the real story: poverty is massively increasing in Tory Britain, partly because of decisions made about Universal Credit as it is being implemented, such as this attack on free school meals, Pete McLaren concluded.