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?’:
According to the charity @childrensociety, the number of children in poverty in West #Sussex who will be missing out on free school meals will be 15,200 after tomorrow's Parliamentary vote on Universal Credit. Can the Tories sink any lower? https://t.co/gei4D6dOOL
— Michael Jones (@Michael4Sussex) March 12, 2018
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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Thomas Bennett Teachers vote to strike
99% of the voters elected for strike action.
Thomas Bennett teachers vote overwhelmingly for strike action over funding cuts and job losses
Teachers working at Thomas Bennett Community College in Tilgate, Crawley have voted to take strike action. Members of the National Education Union (NEU), voted by 99% in favour of the action, with a turnout of 89%. The school, operated by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) has threatened to make teachers redundant and make drastic funding cuts to areas such as support for children with special educational needs (SEN).
Regional Secretary, Paul McLaughlin said:
“This overwhelming result shows the enormous strength of feeling that members have over this devastating issue. We’re calling on the employer to come to the table with serious plans to save this school, otherwise we will be forced to take significant action.”
This follows a recent public meeting where 150 members of the school community including parents, pupils and staff came together with local councillors to oppose these plans by the academy trust.
The union has confirmed that any action will be non-disruptive of exams.
Local Representative and English Teacher in the school, Alex Ramiz said:
“Through this ballot result our members are sending a clear message to The Kemnal Academies Trust that they do not accept their outrageous proposals for running our school into the ground. They will take strike action unless TKAT come up with a more workable solution.”
NEU Regional Officer, Glenn Kelly added:
“TKAT have choices. They have £7 million of reserves they can use to save this school; the Chief Executive is paid £165,000 a year and they can renegotiate the terms of their PFI contract which costs £1 million per year. So far, they have been unwilling to consider these alternatives, and prefer to make our members redundant instead. These decisions would leave vulnerable children in the school without adequate levels of support.”
Angela Newman of the Crawley Community Action Group, a parent led body formed to help fight the cuts to the school, stated;
“I am one of the many parents who are concerned about Thomas Bennett and are determined to save the school. I want to speak up to say that we fully support the teachers who have balloted for action. It’s a shame that it has to get to this but, like us parents they are motivated only to save our school and to be able to provide the children with the education they deserve.”
Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council said:
“As the teachers said at the meeting last week, if you want to prevent the cuts to the school we need to be ready to stand together to defend our children’s education.”
Crawley MP Henry Smith said:
“It’s perfectly understandable and right that teachers at Thomas Bennett should highlight concerns about the future of the community college and I call on the academy trust who runs the school to respond fully to these worries so that pupils and parents can be assured for the future”