How Can Free School Meals and Changes to the Benefits Policy Help Eradicate Child Poverty?

In an open letter to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, MP Frank Field has called for immediate action to help support the overwhelming number of families struggling to feed their children during school holidays. Once the summer break starts, children from under-privileged backgrounds normally entitled to free school meals suffer in their absence.

Frank Field highlights in his letter the “profoundly distressing” measures parents have taken to ensure children are well fed in his letter. He reported, “We heard about parents going without meals and surviving on cereal just to make sure their children were fed. We heard about families being plunged into debt, just to get by.”

Extra Costs for Parents

In order to help ease parents’ struggles to feed their children during school breaks, Field has pressed the Education Secretary to establish a pilot scheme aiming to provide free school meals for children throughout the summer break. Moreover, in addition to concerns about maintaining children are well fed in the summer, Frank Field underlined the problematic impact of high uniform costs on struggling parents.

Chancellor George Osborne’s “two-child” benefit policy is another cause of concern for struggling working-class parents, as recent figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) highlighted. A total of 161,000 households were affected by the 2017 policy, and figures published this week demonstrated that of these affected 161,000 households, 59 percent had in fact at least one adult in employment, supporting Frank Field’s claim that under-privileged families require extra support.

Controversial Clauses

George Osborne’s 2017 policy means parents cannot claim Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits for a third child, who is born after the 6th of April 2017. The policy has courted more controversy for its list of exceptions and what campaigners have ridiculed as the “rape clause.” The exceptions to the “two-child” cap include a third child, who is born as a result of a multiple birth (triplets, twins, etc.), adoption, non-parental care and from non-consensual sex.

The “rape clause” incorporates certain stipulations to identify mothers for whom this exception applies; mothers must confirm they “did not, or could not consent to the act that led to the conception’ or “were in a coercive or controlling relationship with the biological parent” at the time of conception. Finally, as part of the “rape clause”, mothers must additionally provide evidence that they are not living with the biological parent of the third child. Nonetheless, campaigners have called out the four-part form confirming the exception on ethical grounds for the humiliating questioning it subjects women to, whereby women are forced to relive their ordeal.

Benefit Policy

SNP MP Allison Thewliss criticised the lack of acknowledgment and sensitivity towards marital rape in an open debate, by arguing “if a woman is in such a relationship, she is not going to nip down to her local Jobcentre and report to a Government official that her child was born as the result of rape.”

Allison Thewliss added, “For a start, with the single household payment in universal credit, she is not going to see the money in any case; it will go straight to her partner and he will know what she has done. Nor will she want to go through a third-party reporting mechanism, as suggested by Lord Freud. She will not want to tell her family GP. If the family are not known to the social work system, she will probably not want to alert social workers. She might not yet have sought the support of her local Women’s Aid or of other sources of assistance. She will almost certainly not want to contact the police just for the tax credits.”

The SNP MP’s statements emphasise a short-sighted approach has been adopted by Government officials to identify exceptions to claiming Universal Credits or Tax Credits.

In Northern Ireland, however, women may be prosecuted if they fail to disclose the fact that they have been raped, which endangers women, who are fearful of speaking about their attacker.

Child poverty in Britain stretches beyond school walls and free lunches for under-privileged families, and instead echoes the catastrophic result of short-sighted policy making. MP Frank Field’s call for new government measures to alleviate the financial pressures that working-class parents face, must equally revisit the “rape clause” or authorised exceptions to the “two-child” cap on benefits and the method used to confirm a third child is born from rape.

See Also: 

How To Navigate Fussy Eaters?

Good Eating Habits For Infants And Toddlers

Weighty Issues For Our Children

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