As of today, Scottish children in primaries 1 to 3 will all automatically qualify for free school meals.
This is a Good Thing, because universal benefits are the way to go for all sorts of reasons – reducing stigma by removing means testing increases uptake because you catch all the people who didn’t know they qualified so haven’t applied, and all the people who don’t apply because they don’t want their kid to stick out and be picked on, and all the people whose income hovers just above the arbitrary cutoff point. It’s also sometimes cheaper to administrate than means testing. Hungry kids get a hot meal, stressed parents have one less thing to worry about, teachers have children who are ready and able to concentrate in the afternoons, everyone gets a warm socialist glow. Win all round, right? Not according to Scottish Labour. There’s a general election coming up and in a stroke of genius, Scottish Labour are chasing my vote by telling me I’m a wealthy family and I don’t need free school meals.
The policy has been supported by unions and poverty campaigners, but Scottish Labour said the change would only benefit the country’s wealthier families as children from poorer backgrounds already qualified for free school meals.
It’s an interesting tactic to get the working class vote, I grant you, but it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Children from poorer families already qualified for free school meals. By definition the extension will not benefit those families at all, while the wealthiest families in Scotland will be celebrating the news that the Scottish government’s proposals will save them £330 a year.
So my kids used to get free school meals when I was on Income Support. But when I got a part-time job again we no longer qualified and I had to start finding the 22 quid a week it costs to buy all three of them school dinners myself. I must be wealthy! That’ll be why I still qualify for housing benefit, working tax credits and council tax benefit, right? It’s cos I’m rolling in it. Iain Gray went to private school so I imagine his mum never had to dig down the back of the sofa for loose change to feed him with at the end of the month. For his benefit, here’s the qualifying criteria for free school meals in Scotland:
You can claim free school lunches for your children if you are receiving:
- Income Support (IS)
- Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Any income related element of Employment and Support Allowance
- Child Tax Credit (CTC), but not Working Tax Credit, and your income is less than £16,010
- Both maximum Child Tax Credit and maximum Working Tax Credit and your income is under £6,420
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- Universal Credit
So you could be earning well under the tax and NI threshold as a single parent, but still have to pay for school dinners. Or you could be a couple, one on full time min wage, and still have to pay for school dinners. How many kids you have makes no difference either. It’s not a sliding scale. You either get them or you don’t. My older two are too old now but my youngest will now get free school dinners for a year and a half and speaking as the head of a poorer family, I am rejoicing. Being told by Labour that I’m somehow a member of the chattering classes for that isn’t exactly encouraging me and others like me to vote for them.