The truth about the recent vote on free school meals

A number of constituents have recently got in touch about free school meals. By 2022 around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal – despite scaremongering to the contrary.

The suggestion that one million children will lose free school meals is misinformed. This figure is based on a hypothetical situation where all children in receipt of Universal Credit receive them, which was never promised or the intention because it would mean around 50 per cent of all pupils would be eligible. This money would have to come from somewhere and it would mean taking it from another part of education spending. Instead, we have made sure that free school meals remain targeted at the children who need them most.

We have also put in place transitional protections so that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit. This guarantees that no one will lose out, which is why I am concerned that some people have been unnecessarily worried by the scaremongering.

Recent research by the Children’s Society shows that only 65 per cent of those currently eligible for free school meals actually receive one. This is due to the stigma felt by parents, difficulty meeting dietary requirements and preference for packed lunches. I believe that we need to make sure that the current system is helping those in most need.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and studies show that regularly skipping it can damage a child’s educational attainment. I have campaigned for the introduction of free breakfasts in all schools. In Parliament I welcomed the Government’s announcement of a £26 million fund to support breakfast clubs.

I highlighted to the Education Secretary of State that although Wiltshire is not a deprived county, it has pockets of deprivation with some schools in my constituency having two thirds of pupils on the pupil premium.

I asked for clarification on how the deprivation areas will be determined and he explained that they will use the ‘income deprivation affecting children index’ methodology and said that he would write to me about what the implications are for Chippenham.

I have a number of appointment-based and pop-in surgeries coming up. If you have an issue, concern or problem please get in touch michelle.donelan.mp@parliament.uk, 01249 704465 or pop into my office at 61 New Road, Chippenham.

Michelle Donelan’s weekly column 22 March 2017