Up to 110,000 children may be missing out on a free school meal because the Government has frozen the eligibility threshold for four years. The Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of using the freeze to snatch school lunches away from children by stealth.
Controversial rules introduced in April 2018 mean that households applying for Universal Credit may receive free school meals only if their income is less than £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax.
The threshold has not been increased since it was introduced. Meanwhile, prices have risen by almost 16% since April 2018.
New figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that 1.07 million children aged 5-16 in England currently live in households below the current threshold of £7,400.
Had the threshold been increased in line with inflation, it would have increased to £8,575. Around 110,000 more children - 1.18 million in total - would then live in households under the threshold.
The figures were published in an answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP.
The proportion of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals had already risen to more than one in five (22.5%), the highest since at least 2015/16. However, the Child Poverty Action Group has warned that 800,000 children in relative poverty still miss out on a free school meal.
Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to extend free school meals to every child in households receiving Universal Credit so that no child goes hungry at school.
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said:
The Government is snatching school lunches away from children by stealth. Every year that Ministers keep this callous policy, thousands of children in hard-working families, struggling to make ends meet, lose out.
Freezing the threshold is morally, economically and politically bankrupt, trapping families in poverty as the cost-of-living crisis bites. Even Michael Gove agrees.
Liberal Democrats would offer every child, in families receiving Universal Credit, a healthy, nutritious school meal. We will invest in our children so that no child goes hungry at school.