The Government is bringing in the new criteria to tie-in with the rollout of universal credit, which will replace the existing benefits system. Under the current system parents or carers on benefits such as child tax credit with a household income under £16,000 a year a year tend to use FSM.
Currently families receiving universal credit are entitled to free school meals, however this could change if Government plans to introduce a new eligibility criteria based on net earnings of up to £7,400 per household excluding benefits, which is the equivalent to £18,000 to £24,000 a year including benefits, are implemented in April.
A Department for Education consultation outlining the proposals closed last week. The Government has claimed that around 50,000 more pupils will be eligible and that around 10 per cent of those currently eligible will lose out under the new rules.
The GMB analysis finds that under the proposed earnings cap, only the lowest earning 20 per cent of households would be entitled to free school meal.
As 65 per cent of expenditure on free school meals currently benefit households outside this group, the analysis suggests that thousands of children are likely to miss out, challenging the claim by the Government that more pupils will be entitled to free meals under the new system than the current one.
The analysis is based on Office of National Statistics data on effects of taxes and benefits on household income, published last April.
GMB also warns that the earnings cap will force people to negotiate down their working hours or leave work altogether to make ends meet.
The union’s analysis follows claims by the Children’s Society last month that one million children living in poverty will miss out on free school meals under universal credit.
GMB is now campaigning for free school meals to be made available to all pupils.
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said, ‘These plans should concern all parents and everyone who works in schools.
‘At least one hot, nutritious meal a day should be a fundamental right for all pupils. Instead thousands of children from deprived backgrounds are now being threatened by a new cut disguised as a kindness.
‘GMB members working in schools already encounter children with no food at home, and see packed lunches of no more than crisps or chocolate, because parents are struggling to make ends meet.
‘This arbitrary £7,400 earnings cap, which takes no account of household need or the number of children that parents need to provide for, will force people to negotiate down their working hours or leave work altogether just to make ends meet.
‘It makes a mockery of the Government’s claim that it is making work pay.'
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'No child who is currently receiving a free school meal should lose out as a result of our proposals and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. The fact is over 50,000 more children than now will be entitled to Free School Meals as a result our eligibility proposals following the rollout of Universal Credit. It’s right that we make sure this support reaches children from the most disadvantaged families and we’re consulting on this issue to make sure that’s the case.'