St Albans and Harpenden MPs defend free school meals vote

Anne Main at the Rohingya debate in Parliament.

Anne Main at the Rohingya debate in Parliament. - Credit: Archant

Local MPs have hit back at Opposition “scaremongering” after they were accused of taking free school meals from a million disadvantaged children.

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami. Picture: Chris McAndrew

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami. Picture: Chris McAndrew - Credit: Archant

Both St Albans MP Anne Main and Harpenden and Hitchin MP Bim Afolami voted for changes to Universal Credit which mean new applicants only receive free school meals if they earn under £7,400.

Currently, everyone receiving the benefit is entitled to free school meals. All children currently getting free school meals will continue to do so.

Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner claimed the rule for new applicants would hit one million needy children.

She based her claims on if the government continued to allow every family on Universal Credit to receive free school meals. That way, the new capping would see one million less children receive a free meal.

Conservatives in Westminster riled against the accusation, arguing that in fact 50,000 more youngsters would be entitled.

They argued that if the previous benefit system before Universal Credit was still in force, the new rules meant 50,000 more children would be eligible for free school meals.

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Mrs Main said: “I am shocked that the Opposition has attempted to mislead the British public and needlessly worry parents into thinking the government are removing free school meals for up to one million children.

“This is completely untrue, even media fact-checking has confirmed this is false.

“In fact, under the new measures, no child currently receiving free school meals will lose out. The government have also gone even further to support less well-off families in this country.”

She branded Ms Rayner’s statements as “misleading comments that have needlessly worried families”.

Mr Afolami added: “All I can say is that this was complete scaremongering by the Labour Party.”

Lara Norris, chief executive of Home-Start Hertfordshire, the children’s charity which supports families in need, argued that the changes would “massively” affect working families on low wages who are just about making ends meet.

Mrs Norris said: “The very fact they are entitled to Universal Credit means that they are not earning enough to thrive without some help.

“At Home-Start we see many families who are doing everything they can to survive financially and these cuts mean they have to find a further £1,000 for every child they have in school.”

Mrs Norris explained that from what she has witnessed the majority of parents put their children’s needs first and therefore she expects that these changes will mean parents going without while children go to school with the bare minimum.

She added: “These changes are something families will not have planned for and for a family with three children in school it is the equivalent of being in a low paid job and having a £3K pay cut.

“We encourage every family struggling with money or any other aspect of family life to contact Home-Start or their local family centre for help.

“It is what we are there for and you are not alone.”