In a report prepared by the Children’s Society, the scale of the impact of Universal Credit has been uncovered. Reading East MP Matt Rodda has been concerned to note the effects of Universal Credit amongst Reading’s schoolchildren. It is estimated that 3,700 children in Reading are deemed as ‘living in poverty’, and of that number 2,400 schoolchildren will now miss out on much-needed free school meals due to the new means-testing regime.

The benefit, which combined six previously singly-paid benefits into one, came into effect in Reading on 6 December, and Matt has made various representations to the Government on a number of occasions concerning the punitive way in which this new benefit system has been implemented – and which will see many families in Reading plunged into an even deeper spiral of debt and despair.

Matt commented on the report, saying:
“I am deeply worried by the news that thousands of Reading and Woodley children may miss out on free school meals, as these play a very important part in helping children from families on modest incomes get by. This is yet another indication that Universal Credit is deeply flawed and needs to be paused and fixed; without an urgent re-think it risks doing significant damage to many families in our area. ”

The new estimates from the Children’s Society reveals that more than 160,000 children living in poverty in the South East will miss out on free school meals under the new Universal Credit proposals. As Universal Credit has been rolling out, all families in receipt of the new benefit have been automatically entitled to free school meals, however the Government is planning to introduce means testing for free school meals under Universal Credit. The Children’s Society warns that this will fail to reach around 160,000 children in poverty in the South East and will create a ‘cliff-edge’ where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society said:
“The Government has a golden opportunity to ensure that almost every child in poverty in England does not go hungry at school. There are significant, proven benefits for children’s health, education and their futures in making sure they have a healthy lunch every day, but at least 1,000,000 children will miss out if this change is introduced. Continuing to provide free school meals for all children on Universal Credit would not only help vulnerable children, it would also prevent low income parents being left worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise. Universal Credit was designed to always make work pay, but these plans will undermine that very principle.

He added:
“If the Government wants to show it is truly committed to tackling the growing crises of inequality and child poverty, delivering free school meals for children in low-income working families is a crucial step.”

The Children’s Society claims that if the Government continued to offer free school meals to all children whose families claim Universal Credit, around 2,000,000 children from poor and low-income families in England would benefit once roll out is completed. Under the benefits system that Universal Credit is replacing, only families where parents are working too few hours to claim working tax credits are entitled to free school meals. The Government proposals will mean that just 700,000 of the 1,700,000 school children in poverty who could be helped, will receive free school meals.

The consultation on free school meals entitlement under universal credit closes on 11 January 2018. The Children’s Society is asking supporters to submit responses to the consultation via its website at:

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