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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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Coronavirus

West Sussex refuses to support Crawley schools decision of NOT fining parents for keeping children absent

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September seems to creeping ever closer and with it comes the supposed return to school for children across the town.

But with the news that parents ‘must’ send their children back to school come the start of the new school year, also came the news that one head in paticular had gone on record to say he would not fine any parent who kept their child at home.

Head of St Wilfrid’s Michael Ferry was interviewed on breakfast television where he stated that he would not fine a parent. This then led to a whole debate about who was right and what the right decision should be.

Now West Sussex County Council has added to this furore by refusing to support a decision to not fine a parent made by any head teacher or school in Crawley.

In a statement a West Sussex County Council Spokesperson said:

“We welcome the plan for all children to return to the classroom in September after, what has been for many, a lengthy absence.

“We recognise that some children may be anxious about returning to school and will work closely with our schools to help them prepare children and build the confidence of parents  and carers in the plans for a safe and managed return.

“We will continue to work with schools to engage with and support parents and carers in getting their children back into school before considering issuing penalties for poor attendance. Issuing fines for non-attendance is always a last resort.”

The lack of apparent support from the county council shows an ever growing divide on decisions being made around the ongoing problems with the coronavirus.

Responding to the comments from West Sussex, Michael Ferry said:

“The guidance allows head teachers as far as they can to make local decisions to meet the needs of their school communities.  If one of those decisions happens to be that we are not going to fine people for something that isn’t their fault then I would expect the local authority to support the headteachers in doing so.

If only 10% turn up when we reopen then I would say I have failed because I have not got across the message about what measures we are taking to protect our students.”

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