Dispute over claims 17,000 children will be 'deprived' of school meals in Northamptonshire

Northampton South candidate Gareth Eales has urged Conservative MPs to vote against the vote on Universal Credit today.
Northampton South candidate Gareth Eales has urged Conservative MPs to vote against the vote on Universal Credit today.

Conservative MPs are being urged to vote down plans to change the threshold for free school meal entitlement over claims 17,000 children will be affected in Northamptonshire.

Parliament is set to vote on plans to impose an income threshold on families currently receiving Universal Credit today.

According to figures released by the Charity the Children's Society Labour has claimed the move could impact 17,000 children "currently eligible" for school meals in Northamptonshire, who they say would lose out if the threshold were to change.

Both of Labour's Parliamentary candidates for Northampton, Gareth Eales and Sally Keeble, have written letters to their Conservative counterparts urging them to vote against the party whip today.

In their letters, they write: "Imposing an income threshold on families currently receiving universal credit will not only potentially leave children without a hot meal, but the policy will create a cliff-edge, meaning some local parents could be better off either reducing their hours, or not taking additional hours or pay rises, because moving just above the income threshold would leave them hundreds of pounds worse off for each child affected."

Labour says the policy directly undermines the Government’s aim of Universal Credit, to make work pay.

Sally Keeble.

Sally Keeble.

But Northampton North MP Michael Ellis claims the story has been "debunked."

Under the current system, children are entitled to free school meals if their parents are claiming universal credit, regardless of how many hours their parents work.

But today the Government plans to change the rules so that if your family earns more than £7,400 from part-time work a year, your children will no longer be entitled to free school meals if they’re in Year 3 or above

Channel 4 News carried out a fact-check on this story in an article entitled “Labour aren’t telling the full story about free meals”.

Michael Ellis.

Michael Ellis.

The article states the policy “is not a case of the Government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them. It’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios.”

No child currently receiving a free school meal will lose out from the proposed changes, according to the Conservatives, people who will be subject to the means test are future Universal Credit claimants. No child who currently gets a free meal will have it snatched from them.

Michael Ellis said: "It is clear that Labour have been caught out again making misleading claims about free school meals as a way of scoring party-political points.”

But the Labour candidates say the income cap will have a big impact on the county's families in the future.

Andrew Lewer.

Andrew Lewer.

Gareth Eales, Labour's candidate for Northampton South at the next election, said: “If Andrew Lewer votes to literally take hot dinners away from the children of his constituents, I don’t know how he will be able to hold his head high in our town."

And addressing her counterpart Michael Ellis, Sally Keeble, Labour’s candidate for Northampton North, added: “The vote on Tuesday gives him an opportunity to show just whose side he is on; the poorest children in his constituency, or the Tory government of which he is a member."