One million poor children in England will miss out on free school meals under the Universal Credit (UC) benefit regime if Tory plans go ahead.
A consultation on changing the eligibility criteria for free school meals ends today. Currently all children who live in a household receiving UC automatically qualify for them.
But the Tories want to bring in means testing that would see households with net earnings of £7,400 a year or more lose the entitlement. Net earnings don’t include income from benefits.
The Children’s Society charity said this will create a “cliff edge” for many families. Its chief executive, Matthew Reed, added that the plans “undermine” Tory claims that UC will “make work pay”.
A spokesperson told Socialist Worker, “If you just pass the earnings threshold, your child won’t get a free school meal. Free school meals are the equivalent of around £400 a year.
“But also the way that UC works means that as your earnings increase, more of your UC is withdrawn. That works together to mean you need to earn more than £1,100 a year to make up for the loss of free school meals.”
The attack comes as many families struggle to put food on the table – and UC has already made things worse. The Trussell Trust runs over 400 food banks in Britain.
Between April and September last year it distributed 586,907 three-day emergency food supplies – 208,956 of them to children. And in areas where UC has been fully rolled out for six months or more, there has been a 30 percent average rise in food bank use.
Delays in benefits was the second biggest reason for people using food banks.
Tory claims that UC simplifies the benefits system and helps the poor are laughable. Large numbers of claimants have reported confusion, mistakes and delays in accessing UC.
Its real aim is to hound benefit claimants further, extend this harassment to low-paid workers – and to slash the welfare bill. UC promises tough sanctions for people deemed to be not looking hard enough for work. These could see claimants’ benefit cut off for up to three months.
UC is designed to make unemployment so unbearable that workers may accept all kinds of attacks from bosses in order to avoid it.
UC rates this year will be kept at April 2016 benefit rates – a real terms cut when inflation is taken into account. And a two-child limit means families will receive no extra money to help support raising a third child.
The government’s real agenda was further exposed last week with the appointment of Esther McVey as work and pensions secretary (see below).
The Unite union has said the government must “stop and fix” UC, while Labour has called for it to “pause and fix” the benefit. But there can be no fixing of a benefit whose entire purpose is to drive down the living standards of millions of poor people.
UC should be scrapped – along with all the rest of the Tories’ attacks on benefits and workers.
New benefit-slasher McVey has rotten record
As a welfare minister between 2012 and 2015 Esther McVey helped ram through many of the Tories’ nastiest attacks, including the bedroom tax.
As minister for the disabled in 2013 she attacked Disability Living Allowance, arguing that some claimants didn’t really need the benefit because “bodies heal”.
McVey oversaw the introduction of medical tests for disabled claimants. She was also involved in shutting down Remploy factories that had employed disabled people.
In 2013 she said that food bank use was “positive” as we all have to “live within our means”. The next year, she claimed there was “no robust evidence” that Tory welfare reforms were linked to rising food bank use.