The Department for Education recently launched two public consultations on changing the entitling criteria under Universal Credit for free school meals, the early years pupil premium and the free early education entitlement for two-year-olds (2-year-old entitlement).
Currently free school meals are “passported” by entitlement to other benefits that will disappear with the introduction of Universal Credit. The Government therefore need to introduce earnings thresholds as part of their committment to promoting social mobility and ensuring equality of opportunity for every child. The proposals will ensure that support is targeted most effectively towards a greater number of families on low incomes. Therefore, the Government are proposing thresholds that would result in more children becoming eligible for these entitlements.
For free school meals and the early years pupil premium the Government are proposing an earnings threshold of £7,400 per annum (equivalent to a household income of £18,000 to £24,000 for a typical family when benefits are included). Under this threshold, it is estimated 50,000 more pupils would become eligible for free school meals compared to today. To provide certainty for families, the Government also propose to protect current free school meals recipients until the end of the rollout of Universal Credit, and from then on for the rest of their current phase of education. Similar protection arrangements will apply for the early years pupil premium. This consultation runs until 11 January and I encourage everyone to have their say on the proposals by submitting their views.
For the 2-year-old entitlement the Government propose to introduce an earnings threshold of £15,400 per annum, which would increase the number of beneficiaries by an estimated 8,000 children compared to today. No child who has started receiving this entitlement would lose it as a result of the introduction of the threshold. This consultation closes on 15 January.
The proposed thresholds for these entitlements are set at different levels as they have different objectives. FSM are intended to provide healthy nutritious lunches to children who need them the most. The 2-year-old entitlement is intended to improve outcomes and narrow the attainment gap between more and less advantaged children.
After the consultations, should the Government decide to take forward the proposals, it is expected the regulations will come into force in April 2018