Tories just voted to cut children’s free school meal eligibility in move that ‘could deprive a million kids’

Free School Meal Eligibility Cuts Go Ahead In England After Tory And DUP MPs Vote For Universal Credit Changes

Charities claim up to a million youngsters will lose out

Tory and DUP MPs have voted for controversial cuts to free school meals in England – despite protecting Northern Ireland from similar curbs.

Campaigners say the shake-up will leave a million fewer children eligible in future than if the rules had continued as they are now.

Currently all families on Universal Credit can claim free school meals – a transitional measure to help people move to the six-in-one benefit.

But from April 1, children in Year 3 and above on Universal Credit in England will not normally be eligible if their parents earn more than £7,400.

The Children’s Society has said the “huge step backwards” means “one million children in poverty who could benefit now won’t”, as more families move onto Universal Credit in future.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner accused the government of “pulling the rug” from under poor families.

But her bid to block the move in the House of Commons failed by 312 votes to 254 after Tory MPs accused her of “scaremongering”.

Tory MP Chris Philp said the “million children” figure referred to “children who are not currently receiving free school meals”.

He added: “In fact the Government’s proposals would see 50,000 extra children receive free school meals.”

Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith, who led the Universal Credit reforms, added: “Transitional protection was designed to protect those moving from tax credits into Universal Credit so they did not, if it happened to be the case, lose any money in the transition.

“It was not about increasing, to the degree that she’s talking about, the number of those who’d receive free school meals.”

The government said the shake-up is “necessary to ensure that this funding is targeted towards the most disadvantaged families.”

Labour did however won a victory over plans to end employer-backed childcare vouchers after pressure from the DUP .

Education Secretary Damian Hinds agreed to delay the axe, which will see the vouchers replaced with a new tax-free childcare system, for six months.

MPs had heard the take-up of tax-free childcare has been well below expectations, with nearly £1billion earmarked for childcare returned to the Treasury.

The DUP has previously opposed ending the vouchers and DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly said: “There should be a delay on the closure of that scheme, to allow for the concerns to be addressed.”

Mr Hinds replied: “I have heard the concerns that have been raised about this and the timing.

“I can confirm that we will be able to keep the voucher scheme open for a further six months to new entrants, following representations that she has made.”

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