Potters Bar MP faces backlash over controversial school meals vote
Potters Bar MP Oliver Dowden has defended his vote on changes to free school meals - a change which some say "echoes Dickensian times rather than 2018".
Conservative and DUP MPs voted for controversial cuts to free school meals in England during a Commons vote on Tuesday evening.
The new rules, coming into effect from April 1, will affect children who are not yet in school.
By the time they are in school and have reached Year 3, they will no longer be eligible for free school meals if their parents earn more than £7,400 combined.
Children of families currently on Universal Credit will not see free school meals immediately taken away even if they do earn over the £7,400 threshold.
The Conservative party claims that an extra 50,000 children will be eligible for a nutritious meal at school by 2022.
Mr Dowden said as someone who was eligible for free school meals for a time as a child, he knows how important this is to struggling families and examined the changes carefully.
He explained how he was unable to attend the debate due to his ministerial work in the Cabinet Office.
Mr Dowden told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “No one who is currently receiving free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement, because of the transitional protections we are putting in place.
“The Government temporarily made Universal Credit a qualifying benefit for free school meals, regardless of income. This was always an interim measure.”
During the vote, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner accused the government of “pulling the rug” from under poor families.
Tory MPs accused her of “scaremongering” as they went on to win by 312 votes to 254 in the House of Commons.
Cllr Jeremy Newmark, Labour’s leader for Hertsmere, said: “The ending of the transitional arrangements could impact upon free school meals for up to a million children around the country including many families and their children in this area, particularly those already struggling to get by.
“They echo Dickensian times rather than 2018.
“I am particularly disappointed that our own MP supported these measures instead of standing up for local people.”
Lara Norris CEO of Home-Start Hertfordshire, a children’s charity which supports families in need, argued that this change will “massively” affect working families on low wages who are just about making ends meet.
Mrs Norris said: “At Home-Start we see many families who are doing everything they can to survive financially and these cuts mean they have to find a further £1,000 for every child they have in school.”