Fears over Universal Credit roll out as demand for free school dinners rises

The number of children taking a free school meal in Lancashire is rising
The number of children taking a free school meal in Lancashire is rising
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More and more Lancashire youngsters are in need of free school meal.

According to data from the latest Department for Education annual census on schools in England, a total of 27,021 of the county’s state school pupils received free meals in January.

This is a 1.9 percent increase in the proportion of pupils claiming the meals in Lancashire over the past year.

Infant pupils, those in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are automatically offered free school meals, but from Year Three eligibility is linked to parents’ benefits.

In Lancashire, 16 per cent of primary school pupils claimed free school lunches and 14 per cent in secondary school had them.

Nationally, the number of children receiving free school meals is at its highest level since 2014, however, tha tis partially because all Key Stage one pupils are now eligible for free dinners, regardless of parental income.

The Labour Party has now raised fears that a full roll-out of Universal Credit will take the meals away from children on the benefits system, and says families will become ineligible for them.

The Department for Education has dismissed the claims as “scaremongering”, adding that pupils eligible for the meals on or after April 1 last year can still claim them even if their circumstances change.

The DfE says fewer youngsters stopped being eligible for them as a result.

A spokeswoman added: “Thanks to the protections included in our new free school meals criteria, the proportion of pupils eligible for and claiming these meals has risen across all ages this year which is fantastic to see.”

She added: “Contrary to previous scaremongering that disadvantaged children will lose their free school meal, data published just last week shows that more children are eligible for and claiming a free nutritious daily meal.

“We encourage all schools to speak to parents and pupils about their school meals provision, to ensure as many eligible children as possible claim their free school meals.”