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April 4, 2018 12:43 PM
By Cllr Alan Connett
Originally published by East Devon Liberal Democrats

Wednesday 4 April 2018


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."