Kemi Badenoch: Misrepresenting Saffron Walden Labour Over Free School Meal Cuts

Walden Local, 21 March 2018

In this week’s Walden Local, local Tory MP Kemi Badenoch accused the local Labour party of lying over changes to free school meals eligibility, but totally misrepresented our position.

Kemi Badenoch said: “Labour’s claims are lies. No-one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.”

FACT: Saffron Walden Labour Party never said that entitlement would be stripped from current claimants. We stated: “It will not affect those currently on free school meals where they are in the school system (eg primary or secondary school), but will impact on struggling local families in the future. Labour had pushed to maintain free school meals for children of those on universal credit, as is currently the case under transition arrangements, but was defeated in parliament.” Labour’s general election position was to extend free school meals eligibility to all school children so that no children are left behind.

Saffron Walden Labour Party also pointed out that the changes could affect the future “pupil premium” given to schools for children on free school meals. This is worth tens of thousands of pounds for some local primary schools. Our MP chose not to answer this point.

Kemi Badenoch said: “Under Universal Credit 50,000 more children will receive free school meals than would have done under the old system.”

FACT: Saffron Walden CLP pointed out that automatic entitlement – as is currently the case – will end for all new Universal Credit recipients from 1 April and means-testing will be introduced, ending free school meals for those earning over £7,400. Universal Credit was rolled out in Uttlesford in October and in Chelmsford in December. All those moved to Universal Credit were entitled to free school meals for their children, yet the Tories want to deny it to future children in these districts.

Analysis by the Children’s Society and Child Poverty Action Group shows that once universal credit is fully rolled out, almost 300,000 low-income working parents in England will be excluded from free school meals for their children.

The Children’s Society states that: “Up to now the Government has allowed all claimants on Universal Credit to receive free school meals. Introducing the proposed net earnings threshold of £7,400 represents a huge step backwards from this position.

“A million children in poverty will miss out on a free school meal under the Government’s proposal. Children are going hungry at school and the Government is missing a golden opportunity to address this.”

If it was such a good policy, why did our MP vote for a £7,400 cap on earnings for free school meals availability in her own constituency, but voted to cap it at £14,000 in Northern Ireland? It is simply a deal to keep Conservative allies the Democratic Unionists happy and Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in power. It has nothing to do with fairness.

Kemi Badenoch claimed that Channel 4’s Fact Check “completely rebutted” the position Labour has taken, which is based on research by the country’s eminent children’s charities.

FACT: Channel 4’s Fact Check states exactly the points we have made in our press release. It says: “The government’s plan to introduce a means test to free school meals will reduce the total number of children who are entitled to free school meals to 1 million. Assuming a 65 per cent take up rate, that means only about 650,000 children will be getting a free hot meal at school.

“In short: if everyone on Universal Credit were entitled to free school meals, then by the time it was rolled out across the country, 1.8 million children would have a free school meal every day. The new means test will see only about 650,000 children on free school meals. That’s a difference of just over a million.”

Channel 4’s Fact Check simply pointed out – as Saffron Walden Labour Party did – that those currently receiving free school meals will not be affected by the changes.

Saffron Walden Labour Party requests a full and public apology from Kemi Badenoch for misrepresenting its position on the removal of free school meals eligibility for future local school children.

Research by Saffron Walden Labour Party finds that over 300 children in the constituency currently benefit from free school meals, based on Schools Guide data. Even under current arrangements for universal credit, many children living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals or their parents have not taken up the scheme. Poverty levels are a lot higher than free school meals take-up with over 3,000 children in poverty across the constituency in 2017, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition statistics.

Kemi Badenoch should start representing the poorest in our community who are suffering under years of Tory austerity, instead of dismissing any criticism of her voting record as a “personal attack”. She should stop taking offence and start working to alleviate poverty for the worst off .

Hundreds of local children face cuts to future free school meals eligibility

Saffron Walden Labour Party has hit out at local MP Kemi Badenoch’s vote to slash free school meal eligibility, claiming that it will plunge hundreds of local school children into poverty when the plans come into force under benefit reforms.

From 1 April 2018, free school meal eligibility will only apply to children of those earning under £7,400 on top of the new universal credit. It will not affect those currently on free school meals where they are in the school system (eg primary or secondary school), but will impact on struggling local families in the future. Labour had pushed to maintain free school meals for children of those on universal credit, as is currently the case under transition arrangements, but was defeated in parliament.

Saffron Walden Labour Party schools spokesman Simon Trimnell, who is father to two local school children, said: “Saffron Walden constituency is always described as wealthy, but there are several pockets of poverty.

“The cost of living is very high and rising fast with food and housing costs growing faster than earnings. You need to earn a lot more than £7,400 on top of benefits to survive.

“Kemi Badenoch has voted to remove free school meals eligibility for hundreds of children in the future.

“Lots of children living in poverty will not have free school meals. Labour supports free school meals for all children, funded by tax on private school fees, to improve nutrition and education for all children.”

Research by Saffron Walden Labour Party finds that over 300 children in the constituency currently benefit from free school meals, based on Schools Guide data. Even under current arrangements for universal credit, many children living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals or their parents have not taken up the scheme. Poverty levels are a lot higher than free school meals take-up with over 3,000 children in poverty across the constituency in 2017, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition statistics.

Labour believes the worst affected area locally will be Stansted South ward, which has consistently had the highest rate of child poverty in the district, estimated at 26.2% in 2017, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition.

Free school meals are available to children whose parents are on income support, job seeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and universal credit. Universal credit will soon replace all the other benefits.

Under the new system, once a family with one child passes the £7,400 mark, they would need to earn an extra £1,000 a year, working 2.4 hours more each week at the national living wage, to cover the cost, according to the Children’s Society which says a million children nationwide will lose out.

Schools also receive a ‘pupil premium’ worth £1,350 per primary school child and £935 per secondary pupil eligible under this scheme to tackle educational under-achievement among low income groups.

There are fears local schools’ pupil premium funding will be threatened with cuts in free school meals eligibility.

Based on data from the Saffron Walden Labour Party has identified the schools likely to see the biggest impact on removal of free school meals:

  • Stansted’s Forest Hall School could see dozens of children from low income families potentially being made ineligible for free school meals. Nearly one in six children attending the school currently qualify for free school meals with data suggesting the school receives over £55,000 of funding under the pupil premium.
  • Stansted St Mary’s primary school and Takeley’s primary school have relatively high free school meals ratios at 9.4%. According to Labour’s estimates, they receive at least £36,400 and £48,100 in FSM-based pupil premium, respectively.
  • In Saffron Walden, Katherine Semar and St Marys schools have FSM ratios of 9.4% and 8.1%. Around 45 children in the town are currently eligible for free school meals.
  • At Great Dunmow St Marys, 29 children (6.9% of the total) currently receive free school meals
  • While most smaller settlements have very low levels of FSM eligibility, Thaxted Primary stands out with 7.2% of pupils currently receiving meals under the scheme. Thaxted also has a relatively high child poverty rate with one in five children living below the poverty line.
  • Primary schools in the Chelmsford portion of the constituency will also lose out with the percentage of children currently qualifying averaging around 9.7%. Labour estimates over 90 children currently receive free school meals in these schools.