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 .