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Crawley confusion as parents wonder if their child will get a free school meal

A new proposal is set for debate tomorrow on free school meals for children. We look at what the proposal is and who it will affect.

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The government say that under new welfare plans the number of children who will receive a free school meal will increase.

The opposition, including a charity, The Children’s Society, say that in-fact the plans are flawed as it will mean parents having to work longer hours as too many of them will fall outside of the criteria required to be eligible for free meals.

So who is right and what is the reality of the proposed new plans?

Currently any child whose parent is out of work or works less than 16hours a week (this increases to 24hrs if they are a couple) is entitled to a free school meal.

The new plans would be an addition to the current Universal Credit being rolled out across the UK.

Whilst the current system is based on the number of hours worked, the proposal is to change this to reflect the actual amount earned by a parent(s).

The proposal is a child will no longer be able to have a free school meal if the family earns more than £7,400 a year.

Current estimations say that it costs a parent around £400 a year per child for school meals, not a small amount BUT isn’t changing the system from an hourly calculation to an earning one more fairly based?

The Children’s Society say no stating this change “creates a huge ‘cliff edge’ for low income families as they try to take on more work – they will actually be worse off overall if they push themselves above the earnings limit and lose their free school meals.

Crawley MP Henry Smith said about the proposals:

Under new Government welfare plans around 50,000 more children nationally will receive a free school meal, compared to the previous benefits system. This policy will protect every child receiving free school meals when it is introduced and every child who gains eligibility before the end of Universal Credit’s roll-out.”

Transitional protections are proposed so that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit.

Children who become eligible under the new threshold after 1st April 2018 will continue to receive free school meals until the end of the rollout of Universal Credit even if their circumstances change.

There are anomalies and disincentives in the current system, where free school meals entitlement is based on how many hours you work, rather than how much you earn.

Henry went on to comment;

By moving to earnings-based criteria, free school meals are being targeted towards the families that need them most. The introduction of Universal Credit transforms the benefit system by making work pay. It removes the major cliff edges in the legacy system such as the 16 hour rule, which means that families can keep more of what they earn.

But some local councillors have hit back including Crawley Councillor Michael Jones who tweeted ‘Can the Tories sink any lower?’:

From an image point of view any time words such as ‘children’, ‘free’, ‘poverty’ are banded together there is major concern and clearly there is an urgent need to ensure no child is left starving.

With less and less money available to subsidise families and more and more children suffering changes are obviously due.

BUT, what isn’t clear is whilst both sides have good arguments for their case neither side seems to have a real solution that will ensure parents are not left worrying about what the final outcome will be.

Steve Verrell will be discussing this on his breakfast show on Runway Radio tomorrow morning from 7am. Link to tune in below.

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Education

Crawley Junior Citizen returns for 28th year

The event aims to provide information about potentially dangerous situations, in a fun and memorable way to the children of Crawley.

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For the 28th year running, Junior Citizen is taking place at The Hawth, teaching local children about safety and life skills.

The event, organised by Crawley Borough Council, is open to all Year 6 children across the borough’s schools, teaching ten and eleven year olds to identify all kinds of potentially dangerous situations, providing advice on what to do and helping them learn valuable life skills to encourage responsible citizenship.

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The aim is to provide important information in a fun and memorable way and more than 1,200 children will take part.

The fortnight long event covers issues such as electrical safety, air quality, consequences of crime, personal safety, fire safety and hoax calls, water safety at the seaside, reducing water use, and waste and the environment.

Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Sustainability, Councillor Geraint Thomas, said:

“Junior Citizen is a fantastic event that has been teaching generations of local children how to be safe and considerate members of the community and I am delighted that it is back again for the 28th year.

“I hope every pupil enjoys themselves while learning valuable life skills.”

This year, Crawley Junior Citizen has been shortlisted for Best Environmental Health Project at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Excellence Awards 2018. The winner will be announced in their awards ceremony in November.

Junior Citizen is supported by partner organisations including West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, West Sussex County Council, Crawley Luxury Coaches, Crawley Neighbourhood Watch, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute; Southern Water, Crawley Magistrates, UK Power Networks, Sussex Community Rail Partnership and the Probus Club of the Sussex Weald.

For more information on Environmental Health Services at Crawley Borough Council visit, www.crawley.gov.uk/environment

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