Skip to main content

Universal Credit

Volume 552: debated on Monday 5 November 2012

11. When he plans to announce the recipients of universal credit whose children will be eligible for free school meals. (126308)

We are working closely with all the Departments that administer the staggering number of passported benefits—some 25 benefits in England, as well as about 20 in Scotland and Wales. The administration of passported benefits and determining who will receive them is the responsibility of various Departments—in the case of free school meals, it is the Department for Education. With different eligibility criteria all over the place giving rise to the massive complexity that has built up over the past few years, we are looking to simplify the system under universal credit while ensuring that those benefits continue to be available to the families who need them most.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the Church of England’s Children’s Society, which states that all children in families receiving universal credit should be eligible for free school meals? If he does not, why not?

I do not agree, because that would mean a huge increase even on the numbers with which the previous Government left us. If we did that, it would include an extra 2.5 million children and an estimated cost of up to £1 billion. I wonder whether the hon. Lady has talked to her hon. Friends on the Front Bench about whether that is another spending commitment they would like to make.

The previous Labour Government left some 3.9 million children living below the official poverty line, about half of whom did not qualify for free school meals. Is it not time that the children who are most in need got the free school meals that they did not get under the Labour Government?

The introduction of universal credit will hugely help families with the lowest incomes. Something like 80% of the money is transferred to the bottom 40% on the income scale, so that helps hugely straight away. Secondly, it is very important that we have an opportunity for Departments—they will do this in discussion with us—to consider how best they can ensure that those most in need get the money and support they require.