Free School Meals and Universal Credit

Thank you for contacting me about Universal Credit and free school meals.

Thanks to the changes the UK Government is introducing, around 50,000 more children are expected to benefit from a free school meal than under the old system.

The claim that this policy decision will remove free school meals from 1 million children has been shown to be misleading by Channel 4’s independent fact check analysis. That states very clearly: “This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them”.

My vote was to bring practice in England into line with what is already the case in Scotland. In both England and Scotland, free school meals are available to all children in the first three years of primary school, and this will not change.

In August 2017, the SNP Scottish Government also implemented its own income threshold for eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit. This threshold is in fact set at a slightly lower level, which means that children stop being eligible for free school meals in Scotland when their families start earning a smaller income than in England. Therefore, some children who would be eligible for free school meals under the Conservatives in England will in fact not be eligible for them under the SNP in Scotland.

While the Northern Ireland Executive did set a higher threshold before it collapsed last year, Northern Ireland does not have universal free school meals for children in the first three years of primary school. It should be for a future Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, not the UK Government or Parliament, to decide whether that situation should change there.

It was the Conservative-led UK Government that first introduced universal free school meals for the first three years of primary school in 2014. I am pleased that the Scottish Government has since followed the UK Government’s lead on this, and that Scottish children can now benefit from this policy like their counterparts in England.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.