The Scottish Government has announced that it will to continue to ensure free school meals and early learning and childcare after the UK Government has unveiled changed to the welfare system.
Following changes to working tax credits and child tax credits around 22,000 pupils in Scotland between the ages of 3 to 15 would lose their entitlement to free school meals, while around 2,000 2 year-olds who would benefit most will become ineligible for both early learning and childcare and a free school meal.
Universal entitlements for 3 and 4 year-olds to almost 16 hours a week of early learning and childcare, and for P1-3 pupils to have free school meals are unaffected by the changes.
However, the First Minister has pledged to safeguard the entitlements of thousands of other children from lower income households by changing the regulations in Scotland to ensure they remain eligible.
The First Minister said:
Free school meals have been one of the flagship policies of this government. Access to free school meals goes beyond that in England and we have extended universal entitlement for every primary P1 to P3 pupil in Scotland. This is part of our commitment to tackling inequalities, while saving families around £380 a year per child.
However, pupils from all ages who live in lower income households also benefit from free school meals – making sure pupils have a good meal every day is a key part of helping them to learn.
Due to changes to working tax credits and child tax credits from the UK Government around 22,000 pupils from age 3 to 15 are set to lose their eligibility entitlement to free school meals.
In addition, around 2,000 2-year-olds will also lose their entitlement to early years education, which the Scottish Parliament voted to extend to them last year. That’s one of the impacts of the UK Government changes to welfare.
So as part of our action to ensure those dealing with welfare reform are protected where we can help them, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will mitigate the effects on children and families who stand to become ineligible following these changes.
Children who are eligible now, will remain eligible – regardless of the changes made by the UK Government. We will protect this essential support for many vulnerable children in Scotland.