South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay defends Universal Credit free school meals ‘cap’

Craig Mackinlay

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has defended his vote against a Labour motion to ensure the roll out of free school meals to all Universal Claimants regardless of income.

The Labour Party forced a vote on the issue this week in a bid to stop proposals for a £7,400 income threshold on free school meals eligibility but were defeated by 312 votes to 254.

The cap affects new Universal Credit claimants not those already in receipt of the benefit.

Currently, all children from households claiming UC are eligible for free meals but changes which will come into effect on April 1 mean new claimants of children in Year 3 and above, with an income of more than £7,400  excluding benefits, will not be eligible.

Children with parents already claiming UC will continue to receive free meals until 31 March 2022 – when the Universal Credit roll out will be complete -or “the end of their phase of education”, whichever is later.

This means primary pupils are covered to the end of Year 6 and secondary school until the end of Year 11.

MP Craig Mackinlay says the changes to free school meal eligibility will mean more children will benefit.

He said: ““The introduction of Universal Credit offers a more fairly targeted system that will ensure that work always pays and more children will benefit from free school meals.

“Transitional protections will be put in place that will enable hundreds of thousands of children to continue to receive a meal during the roll-out, even if family earnings exceed the £7,400 threshold. Importantly, nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit.

“Indeed, recent estimates suggest that by 2022, around 50,000 more disadvantaged children will benefit from a free school meal compared to the previous benefits system.

“It was a feature of the old legacy benefit of tax credits, introduced by Gordon Brown in 2003, that any family in receipt of Working Tax Credit was not able to receive free school meals. This is a feature that has been accepted without comment for 15 years and throughout the years of the Labour Government and so it is curious to see the fake outrage that we’ve seen this week. I call it unacceptable political opportunism designed to create fear and uncertainty. In broad terms, nothing changes.

“The £7,400 threshold relates to earned income and does not include additional family income through Universal Credit. Depending on their exact circumstances, a typical family having earned income around the threshold would have a total annual household income of between £18,000 and £24,000.

“Obviously earnings at the threshold level would attract no tax because of the dramatic increases in personal tax allowances over recent years, and of course, Universal Credit received is tax-free.”

Newington primary school in Ramsgate introduced free lunches for every pupil in 2014, the first school in the county to do so.

Head teacher Cliff Stokes said: “At Newington we would be appalled if this latest move by the Government becomes reality.

“We provide free meals for all children because all research suggests that children who have a hot meal at lunchtime are better learners as a result – it is not rocket science!

“The provision of free school meals is particularly important in an area where it has been identified that 47% of the children are living in poverty.”

As a district some 34% of children are recorded as living below the poverty line but in wards such as Newington this figure rises to 47% and is even higher in Cliftonville West with more than 52%, according to data from The End Child Poverty coalition.

South Thanet parliamentary hopeful Raushan Ara said the announcement had been made ‘under the radar’ while people were reacting to wider news of the suspected poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in Salisbury.

She said: “Britain’s Conservative government has seen fit to stop the provision of free school meals to the poorest and most underprivileged children in the country. Sometimes, these free school meals are the only hot meals that these children receive each day. Now, our government have voted to stop them – sneaking their cruel policy “under the radar” at a time of national mourning.

“At the same time, these Tory “guardians of morality” have voted themselves a £5.8 million pound subsidy for their own food and drinks in the House of Commons bars and restaurants.”

Mrs Ara highlighted Thanet’s deprivation and low employment rates as well as national reports of teachers saying it is not possible for students to learn effectively if they are too hungry, thirsty or cold.


  1. I will use my councillor grant to help low income families to be provided with affordable food in the near future, why do people have to pay the most for Tory austerity policy while the bankers get bailed out

  2. From what I gather Mr Mackinlay doesn’t believe that poverty exists among Thanets children. Even though the evidence is there he chooses to ignore it. The photo of him looks like he’d really rather be somewhere else. I wonder why? Try telling the mum who’s struggling to feed her child that free school meals aren’t necessary. The thing that isn’t necessary are the horrendous and frankly immoral cuts to public services. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to know your child is at school and hungry. No child should suffer through a lack of food. Austerity is a lie and must be called out as such.

  3. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Craig displays this attitude. Many of our local schools already have to provide free meals. Our local college does. The introduction of the rent cap, and universal credit is hitting families very hard. Income is dropping and debt is growing. We have some very poor wards in South Thanet, with shocking child poverty. As Cliff Stokes says, 47% of children living in poverty. We need our politicians to stand up against poverty. Not to pretend it isn’t happening.,

    • If what you say regarding statistics are true how does a Tory get voted in. One can only think that the constituents in Thanet must be either foolish for voting for a Tory or they just couldn’t be bothered therefore the reap what they sow.

      • Tony: I guess it’s because Thanet has a disproportionate aged population, many of who will have always voted Conservative without any real thought, probably because they thought Thatcher was the best PM ever, Older generations, particularly those who are retired,will vote Conservative because they think, misguidedly, that the Tories will “look after” them better than any other party.

  4. What a despicable low life human being. Thanet has the largest amount of looked after children in the UK and many living below the breadline. However this man will vote for his own pay rises whilst taking food from children. It’s in humane.

  5. So on 1st April there will be two types of poor children: those allowed free school meals and those not (though their parents could be on identical incomes). How is this right? The money might be peanuts to Mr Mackinlay, but not to parents struggling to pay all the bills. Does Mr Mackinlay understand the role of a constituency MP? To serve the people he (or she) claimed he wanted to serve when standing for the seat – and that’s everybody – not just those who will vote for you. A cynic might think Mr Mackinlay was only really interested in grabbing a seat – any seat – for himself in the House of Commons.

  6. We shall remember all his misdoings in Thanet at the next election. He does nothing for this area and knows nothing of what his constituents want for South Thanet. He just echoes everything his big brother in North Thanet does. It truly is despicable.

  7. Well done to the schoolteacher for speaking out. We need to hear the voices of those on the frontline dealing with the fallout of the current government’s continuing austerity policies.

  8. I feel ashamed at mentioned sometimes I ‘m from Thanet when actions like this the UKIP debuncle of TDC and of course the ongoing court case of the aforementioned local MP are national news! Are we living in the early 19th c as it certainly appears many would have us return to those difficult times of social injustice lack of welfare and community and of course residing in a rotten borough to boot . One step forward with the Turner, Dreamland ,Margate old town revival , Ramsgate Music Hall and the clean beaches Wetherspoons ( ?? )and many festivals and endevours of art entertainment and interllect then this utter uncaring step back = Small wonder many say what’s the point of voting when those in charge are very very far from making decisions to benefit and lack moral fibre. Where are the future generations role models ? few are far between .

  9. The Newington head teacher has right on his side. What were the electorate of Thanet thinking putting this callous aloof nobody as their representative. A grown up bully picking on vulnerable children

  10. As one of the ‘older generation’ always blamed for voting Tory, I should like to make it clear that some of us don’t. The sooner we get rid of this sel;f-serving nonentity the better.

  11. Out of interest, how much money should a household be receiving before the children stop being eligible for free school meals? The article suggests that people in receipt of Universal Credit could have a household income of up to £24,000. Is this where the cut-off should be? Is eligibility for free school meals dependent in receiving Universal Credit?

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