My Column on Free School Meals

The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on March 16th:

I know that readers of my column will agree with me that nobody should be forced to continue struggling when they’ve fallen on hard-times through no fault of their own.

The same applies to children, and those who grow up in poverty across the UK and closer to home here in Barnsley.

Because some of the most desperate children in our community rely on help, such as a free hot meal at school where they may otherwise not be able to afford one.

A substantial, warm meal at lunchtime is essential to so many children to be able to succeed at school, and give them the best chance of getting on in life for those who are most in need.

That’s why it’s concerning that I recently made the Government reveal that since 2011, the percentage of Barnsley students eligible for free school meals achieving the expected grades at key stage 2 in English and Maths has substantially decreased.

But it’s even more worrying to see the Government’s new plans on free school meals for children with parents on Universal Credit (UC) passed in Parliament this week.

Where, as it currently stands, a child with a parent on UC can receive an absolutely vital free school meal, the Government will now enforce an earning threshold to reduce eligibility.

Now, children of anybody earning over £7,400 – not including their UC payment – will be excluded from receiving a meal.

This decision to restrict eligibility could mean over 100,000 children in Yorkshire and the Humber who need it most will now go without their meal at school.

This includes around 3,300 children in Barnsley, including some of the most desperate in our community.

A child’s right to a good meal and the best start in life shouldn’t be in question.

Nor should a dad have to go without a winter coat, or a mum her dinner, so they can afford good, warm meals for their child.

And it was extremely disappointing to see this risked by the Government in Parliament this week.