Wyre Forest Labour today claimed eight hundred (800) children in the poorest families in Wyre Forest will lose their free school meals under Tory Government Plans.

The Tories are set to attack free school meals despite claiming that they both want an “economy that works for everyone”, and that they’d dropped their manifesto proposal to cut free school meals. Where Tory promises and lies collide is getting harder and harder to work out.

We already know Wyre Forest has 3 of the most deprived wards in Worcestershire and child poverty across the District stands at 20%. However, it seems the Tory Government is now targeting the parents of these children’s families and are about to make life much harder for them. Under new Tory Universal Credit plans, it will mean any family earning more than £7,400 net, will see their children’s eligibility for free school meals removed. On current terms that could mean a 36% cut in eligibility, or 800 children losing out in Wyre Forest.

free-shcool-meals.jpgNationally, this is part of a Government plan to save £600million per year in response to them realising they’d got their sums wrong in their much criticised Universal Credit rollout. A rollout that could have seen an expansion in free school meals from 1.1 million to 1.7million children. Under this new plan only 700,000 children will be eligible, which means not only have they reduced the number of children who currently qualify, but also those who might have qualified. It is effectively saying they’ll take one million children who would have qualified under UC rollout off free school meals, and 400,000 children currently eligible for free school meals will have them removed. The plan has been heavily criticised by both the children’s charity ‘The Children’s Society’, and the Head Teachers Association.  

For families, it means they’ll need to earn an extra £1,100 per child per year, to make up for it. Universal Credit is due for full rollout in Wyre Forest in July of this year, and it will likely impact local families almost immediately when the new school year starts in September.

There are many families in Wyre Forest already struggling. There are over 3,000 on the official Housing waiting list unable to afford a house, and fuel poverty affects 13,500 people (13.5% of households) with some 8,500 of them in the lowest paid jobs earning less than £10 per hour. There is just not an abundance of well paid jobs in what is a low pay, zero hour, minimum wage, seasonal and temporary job market in the local economy, to make up for this devastating loss of financial support which helps their children get a decent hot meal.

Stephen Brown, of Wyre Forest Labour, said “There are around 12,000 children of school age in Wyre Forest, and 3,400 of them will already be living in households deemed to be in poverty. The average eligibility in the Midlands for free school meals is 14.9% and in Wyre Forest it’s higher at 18.9%. It means we currently have a potential for 2,200 children to benefit from school meals in the District, which is less than the 3,400 deemed to be officially classed as living ‘in poverty’. If this Tory plan happens, I calculate that we could see free school meals eligibility cut by 36% and 800 children in some of the already poorest families losing out. Low pay is currently a huge problem in Wyre Forest with 8,500 affected. Just how they’ll cope when many of them find out from their upcoming Universal Credit assessment it will mean the loss of free school meals for their children is anyone’s guess. I can’t see their employer readily agreeing to pay them £1,000 extra a year to feed each of their children just because the Tories think it’s a good idea to remove their free school meals. Can you? Whilst Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier trumpets falling unemployment in the District, the reality is, it’s based on false statistics and a low wage, low employment rights, job market; and under this Government, and with a Tory Brexit, there seems little chance of an economic boom to increase workers’ wages. In 8 years he’s done nothing about low pay which has stagnated at 2008 levels. In 8 years he’s also voted for every welfare cut and every austerity measure that detrimentally affects the most vulnerable. This will be another example of that. So, my question to Mark Garnier is, ‘given the reality of low pay here, how many families will be hit by this change, how many children will suffer, what’s he going to do about it, and does he even care?’ I suspect the answer will be, ‘don’t know, don’t know, nothing, and no’. The usual mealy mouth platitudes and a letter to the Minister aside of course. Wyre Forest needs a people’s champion as MP to address some of the serious economic, poverty, health, housing, and educational attainment issues we face. Mark Garnier is not that champion, he just sees us as ‘dog end voters’ who, when his cuts hit, are mere ‘statistical anomalies’. He’s ill equipped to be our MP. Nevertheless, I’m urging him, if he really cares about his constituency, to resist this plan and vote against it. The question is, does he have the guts?”

Stephen Brown added this explanatory note to the Press Release: The decision by the Government to reduce the entitlement to Free School Meals using Universal Credit was laid down by Minister’s Statutory Instrument on February 7th in order to avoid a Parliamentary vote and any scrutiny by MP’s. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has lodged an Early Day Motion no.921 for a Parliamentary vote on it. It is essential that this vote takes place. Not least because Labour won a vote in October 2017 to halt the rollout of Universal Credit that would stop this proposal. Unfortunately, the Tories have consistently ignored that decision by Parliament. Whilst there are some interim protections for those who receive free school meals under the old rules, they will cease when a child transitions from primary to secondary education.

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