Wales' most innovative and influential think tank

Connect: Twitter Facebook LinkedInTel: 01685 350938

School dinners and Universal Credit

March 26th 2018

The Welsh Government has a unique opportunity to make sure that children from low-income families don’t go hungry, says Victoria Winckler.

Each year, around one in six of Wales’ school pupils claims a free school meal because their parents receive a benefit such as Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support. At around £2.50 a go – £12.50 a week per child – this is quite a big help.

And the benefits of a nutritious midday meal are not just financial: a decent meal contributes to better concentration in the afternoon and ensures low income children have better diets too.

Universal Credit changes who can get free school meals

The introduction of Universal Credit means that new rules about who can get a free school meal are needed. Universal Credit is set to be in place for new claimants in all parts of Wales by the end of 2018. The process of switching existing claimants to UC will take place gradually from 2019.

Universal Credit is paid to families where someone is working as well as families which are out-of-work. This means that the old rules for getting a free school meal can no longer be used.

In anticipation of this, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order in 2013.  Put simply, this piece of secondary legislation enabled the children of all recipients of UC to receive a free school meal, irrespective of circumstances, while the benefit was being rolled out.  In practice, the numbers of children who benefited from the new rule were likely to be very small as the roll-out of UC doesn’t apply to claimants with children.

As Universal Credit is set to be rolled-out to all types of households, including those with children, the UK Government is cutting back on eligibility. The plan is that children  in families receiving UC which have an income from work of more than £7,400 will not be eligible for a free school meal.  The move has prompted a row in the House of Commons about the UK Government  allegedly ‘taking away’ free meals from a million children, with equally furious counter claims. It’s worth checking Channel 4’s Full Fact for the details.

What will happen in Wales?

Universal Credit, as everyone knows, is not devolved. But free school meals are. It is for the Welsh Government to decide who can receive a free meal.

Provision is already less generous in England, where all infant pupils get a free meal regardless of their families’ income. The question is whether the Welsh Government will follow the same route as the UK Government for children in families receiving Universal Credit.

What about the cost?

Because the UK government  has limited the eligibility for free meals in England there’s no Barnett consequential to help cover the cost of increasing eligibility in Wales. But that is no reason to make Wales’ poorest children pay.

Aneurin Bevan famously said in 1949 ‘the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism‘. And on this he was right.

At the same time as Wales’ least well-off children have to pay £12.50 a week for a dinner, there’s free bus travel on the Traws Cymru service for anyone, a subsidised canteen for Assembly Members and government officials, and free swimming for over-60s. If you had to choose who got the freebie, who would you select?

Any change to the rules will be via an order to be considered by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. A draft order has yet to make an appearance, but when – or maybe if – its does the procedure to be followed is here.

If the Welsh Government is serious about the well-being of future generations, there is not better case for investing in the health and education of Wales’ children than this.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation.

Please help us to campaign for a free school meal for all low-income children with a donation, no matter how small. 

 

 

 

2+

Leave a Reply

In Print

Supporter Magazine

Exchange Issue 11, Summer 2018

The magazine with its finger on the pulse! The latest edition of our exclusive supporters’ magazine brings together a range of contributors to explore some of the most current and important issues in Welsh public life. New free extract for Read more »

Exchange Issue 10, Spring 2018

“Refreshing, timely and balanced – Exchange has its finger on the pulse” The latest edition of our exclusive supporters’ magazine brings together a range of contributors to explore some of the most current and important issues in Welsh public life. Read more »

More from the Supporter Magazine »

Other Publications

After Brexit: The role of higher education

How should Wales’ universities respond to a post-Brexit Wales? This think piece sets out some ideas. Brexit has potentially deep and far-reaching effects for many organisations, including Wales’ universities. As well as the immediate impacts on staff, students, funding and Read more »

More from Other Publications »

Newsletter

Stay informed

Keep up to date and gain new insights and inspiration with Spark, our FREE e-news

Sign Up For The Spark »

Support Us

Support lasting solutions today!

We need YOUR help to create equality, justice and prosperity for everyone in Wales

Support Us »

Events

November 8th 2018

The New Working Class with Claire Ainsley

Thought-leader talks Claire Ainsley, Executive Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) talks about her ground-breaking book The New Working Class: how to win hearts, minds and votes The majority of people in the UK identify as working class, yet no Read more »