Free school meals

Our thanks to Devon Liberal Democrat Group for forwarding this press release that you may find helpful to adapt for your area:


Children across Devon may lose the right to free school dinners when the new term starts after the Easter holiday as Government imposed changes start to bite.

Children whose parents earn more than £7,400 a year (£142 a week) will begin to lose the benefit as changes voted through by Conservative MPs across Devon came into force on 1st April.

“Schools are already under such great pressure and will start having the pick up the pieces if children are not to go hungry in the classroom, said Cllr Alan Connett, Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at Devon County Council.

He made this comment after Liberal Democrats at County Hall obtained a break down of the eligibility for free school meals across the county. This shows that 9,522 out of 99,389 pupils, 9.6 per cent, are eligible for free school meals.

The threat to free school meals arises from the Government ploughing ahead with changes as part of the Conservatives Universal Credit welfare policy. As a result of the vote, the earnings threshold for free school meals for children, apart from years 1 and 2, will be £7,400 for new applications.

The number of children living in poverty in Britain is set to soar to 5.2 million in the next five years. By 2021/22 the Institute for Fiscal Studies expects 37 per cent of British children to be living in relative poverty.

Cllr Connett added: “We see the news that more and more families rely on local food banks for support, and a healthy school dinner is the one way we can ensure children not only do not go hungry but are able to get the best from their lessons. Who learns well on an empty tummy?

“While the average county wide rate for children entitled to free school meals is 9.6 per cent, there are wide variations with individual schools eligibility for free school meal showing rates of 45% in North Devon and Torridge, 39% in Exeter, 23% in East Devon, 24% in Teignbridge,  23% in South Hams, 15% in Mid Devon and 13% in West Devon.

“Conservative MPs across the Devon County Council area voted for this cap on eligibility for free school meals.”

“Just this week, a report from the Child Poverty Action Group and National Education Union highlighted the problems of poverty in schools. It’s little short of a national scandal that the survey should highlight that poverty is having a significant impact on pupils’ learning, with schools giving children food, washing clothes and having to sort out basic needs before they can even begin to teach,” added Cllr Connett.

“I can’t help notice that while voting for this damaging cut to our children’s welfare, Conservative MP’s  agreed the income cap in Northern Ireland for free school meals will nearly double at £14,000!

Once again, children in Devon are being shortchanged by this Government.”


Note to News Editors:

Extract from the Government website with the new restriction on free school meal eligibility: Universal Credit – if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

Extract from the Devon County Council website explaining the importance of a healthy meal at lunchtime and the entitlement to free school meals.

School meals

We encourage all children to have a healthy and nutritional meal at lunchtime and a snack during morning break. Research shows that children who have a nutritionally balanced meal (rather than one that has too much sugar and fat) are better able to concentrate in lessons. All meals prepared at a maintained school must comply with the government Standards for school food in England. We also encourage children to keep hydrated during the school day, preferably with water or other drinks without additives or added sugar.

Free school meals

All children in reception, year 1 and year 2 at state schools in England automatically get free school meals. However, parents and guardians are encouraged to apply for free school meals when they enrol their child in school, as this can help their child’s school to attract additional ‘pupil premium‘ funding to support learning. From year 3 onwards, children whose parents are in receipt of the following are entitled to free school meals:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

Children who receive any of the above benefits in their own right (i.e. they get benefits payments directly, instead of through a parent or guardian) can also get free school meals.

Draft Motion on Free School Meals from Bath and NE Somerset Group:

Council notes:

  • New government regulations, due to come into force on 1 April 2018, will restrict entitlement to free school meals for new recipients. Families receiving Universal Credit, earning more than £7,400 a year will no longer be eligible. These proposals will affect free school meals for children in year 3 and above. Transitional protections are proposed, so that no child currently receiving free school meals will have them taken away.
  • The Children’s Society suggests that 3,900 children living in poverty in B&NES would miss out on a free school meal under the new regulations.
  • B&NES Council is currently encouraging local Universal Credit recipients to sign up for free school meals and promoting the additional Pupil Premium funding that schools receive.

Council resolves:

  • Council calls on the government to continue their current policy of providing free school meals to all children on Universal Credit.
  • Council requests that the Leader of Council communicate this position to the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions, relevant Ministers and local MPs.

(NOTE: Data for councils across England)

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