Monday, 26 March 2018

Newspaper column 21 March 2018 - Free School Meals and more!

Over the last weekend I had a busy and varied constituency advice surgery in Newquay, where it was good to discuss a varied range of issues with constituents who came to see me.

In the afternoon on Saturday, I also organised and ran a community litter pick in St Austell, where a great group of people came together, braving the snow and collected a mountain of rubbish from the Gover area. This was part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, and I hope to organise similar events in Mid-Cornwall in the future.

One thing that was prominent last week was the spreading of incorrect facts for political means by the Labour Party, regarding the vote on Universal Credit that took place. 

Unscrupulous Labour politicians chose to put out messages that were simply incorrect, which were then picked up and spread as fact on social media. Another example of what is commonly known as ‘fake news’. These lies, which said that 1,000,000 children would lose entitlement to free school meals, are simply wrong.

The changes to the entitlement to free school meals that were voted on in Parliament were necessary to bring the system up to date and accommodate the switch to Universal Credit. 
Once these changes come into effect from 1st April:
All children in reception, year 1 and year 2 will continue to get free school meals, thanks to this Government.
No existing recipients of free school meals will lose them. Every children who current receives free school meals will continue to qualify.
As these changes come in 50,000 extra children will get free school meals than under the previous system.
Instead of basing the eligibility on the number of hours adults in a household are working, the government is introducing a means test so that if you are receiving Universal Credit and you're earning less than £7,400 from work, your children will be entitled to school meals if they're in Year 3 or above. As I stated previously, children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 will continue to be entitled to free school meals regardless of their parent's income.
Whilst the figure of £7,400 may sound low, once income-related benefits are taken into account these households would have a total annual income of between £18,000 and £24,000 depending on their exact circumstances. It is also important to note that under the previous system, the threshold for eligibility was £6,240 and therefore families will be better off under Universal Credit.
After these changes there will still be families with household incomes of £24,000 that will qualify for free school meals.
Last week’s  vote in reality was about using taxpayers’ money most wisely, focussing it on the families and children who need the most help, and those seeking to gain political capital by scaring people into believing they will no longer be entitled to something because of it should be ashamed of themselves.
Another thing that this issue highlighted and brought out in droves, were keyboard warriors, who seized upon the opportunity to attack MPs who voted for the changes, with foul and abusive personal attacks on social media.
In an age where the leader of the opposition advocates ‘kinder, gentler politics’, it is a shame that many of those who purport to support him seem to think that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. It sadly seems to be the norm now, particularly on social media, that if people, particularly those identifying themselves as supporting the Labour Party, do not agree with someone’s political views, they see it as perfectly fine to launch into these sort of attacks. I have always thought that if people resort to this sort of vitriol, particularly without bothering to check the facts first, then they have lost the real argument.
After several years now in politics I have come to accept that this sort of thing goes on. I am very grateful to those locally who have been in touch expressing their support for me and disgust at the things they have seen posted. However, please be assured these type of attacks really have no effect. I will continue to do all I can to represent everyone who lives in our constituency, regardless of your political views.