Eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit

By agency reporter
April 6, 2018

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner commissioned the Institute for Fiscal Studies to assess the impact of the £7,400 earnings threshold for eligibility for free school meals under Universal Credit, comparing it with how families would have fared under the old benefits-related system.

The IFS analysis confirms the Government’s estimate that approximately 50,000 additional children will gain entitlement to free school meals under the new system.

This overall net gain hides many more winners and losers:

  • About 210,000 children who would not have qualified for FSMs under the legacy system will gain entitlement under UC.
  • About 160,000 (13 per cent, or one in eight) of the 1.3 million children who would have qualified under the legacy system will find themselves ineligible under UC.
  • The IFS analysis suggests that the net increase in eligibility under UC is entirely explained by the children of lone parents.

The Government’s decision whether to uprate the threshold in future will affect the numbers of children eligible. If, instead of freezing the threshold to 2021-22, it increased this threshold with earnings, the IFS estimates that around 100,000 additional children would be entitled to FSMs. This highlights the significance of the decision of how to uprate (or not uprate) this threshold beyond 2021-22, a decision which has not yet been made.

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said, “I asked the Institute for Fiscal Studies to do this analysis because the Government was unable to explain in detail how it had reached both of its separate estimates that 50,000 additional children would be eligible for free school meals under the universal credit system. In particular, this meant we were unable to see which families would be those who gained, and which those who lost out.

“I am pleased that the IFS analysis has provided clarification. Free school meals can be a lifeline for children in poverty.”

* Read the IFS analysis here

* Office of the Children's Commissioner https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/


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