SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has
expressed concern at the threat to free school meals and clothing allowances
for families on low incomes as a result of Welfare Reform. The Mid Ulster
MLA’s warning came as Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, the Northern Ireland
Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), published two reports
highlighting the adverse impact on children in Northern Ireland of the
proposed changes to the welfare system.
Mr McGlone said: “The two reports from NICCY highlight the adverse impact of
the proposed changes to the welfare system on families with young children.
“One element of those changes is in how children are assessed on their
eligibility for free school meals and clothing allowances.
“As the Education Minister admitted in a recent written answer to me, the
proposed Universal Credit will replace a number of existing benefits which
are currently used to determine eligibility for free school meals and
“This is a vital assistance many families rely on to ensure their children
are in the best possible position to make the most of their educational
opportunities, as well as ensuring the children receive basic food nutrition
during the school day.
“These changes will affect many families across the north. We have the
highest level of households with children, 34%, of any region of the UK. A
high percentage of those families may lose their entitlement to this
“We won’t know exactly how high that percentage will be until the Education
Minister reveals what the new eligibility criteria are. Despite the massive
uncertainty this will create for many families, the Minister has said that
he will not bring forward proposals until the autumn of this year.
“I welcome the fact that the Minister has now recognised the problem, but
the problem needs to be resolved.
“I will be pressing the Minister to complete his exploration of the options
available to him as quickly as possible and to provide his proposals before
the start of the summer break.
“Parents have the right to know how these changes will affect their
children, and they have the right to know in plenty of time to prepare for
Notes to Editors:
Assembly Written Question to Education Minister
Patsy McGlone: To ask the Minister of Education what assessment his
Department has carried out of the implications of Welfare Reform on
entitlement to free school meals.
Education Minister: The provision of free school meals has an important role
to play in ensuring that children from non-working and low income families
receive a healthy, nutritious, meal each day in school. I am committed to
ensuring that those families most in need continue to receive this benefit.
The Universal Credit, which the British Government intends to introduce next
year as part of the welfare reform proposals, will replace a number of
existing benefits which are currently used to determine eligibility for free
school meals and clothing allowances. It will be necessary, therefore, to
amend the eligibility criteria to take account of this change.
I have tasked my officials to explore the options available to me with a
view to setting out proposals in the Autumn.