TAUNTON Deane MP Rebecca Pow has defended her vote to introduce restrictions on free school meals for households claiming Universal Credit.

This week, Labour forced a vote in the House of Commons over proposals to introduce a £7,400 earnings threshold for free school meals.

Labour argued all children from households claiming Universal Credit benefits should be entitled to free school meals, as they currently are under 'transitional arrangements' during the rollout of the controversial scheme.

But the Government says those who currently receive free school meals will not lose them on April 1 - even if their household breaches the £7,400 earnings threshold. 

However Labour, citing research by The Children's Society, says the changes mean up to a million children who would have been eligible for the meals under the current system will miss out once the threshold is introduced.

Before the vote Angela Rayner, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “It is an absolute scandal that the Conservatives are pressing ahead with a plan that could leave over a million children without a hot meal in schools.

“These plans will create a dangerous cliff-edge in the Universal Credit system and make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet.

“The Government should have taken this opportunity to listen to Labour’s call for all children in families receiving Universal Credit to be eligible for free school meals, but instead they have chosen to make life harder for millions of parents across the country.”

Ms Pow said: “First of all, I would like to clarify that the claims by the Children’s Society’s campaign that 1 million children will lose out on free school meals are misinformed; nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit.

"Recent estimates suggest that by 2022, around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal compared to the previous benefits system and I welcome this.

"These free school meals are, rightly, targeted to our most vulnerable children who need them the most.

"I am proud to be part of a Conservative Government that is committed to supporting children to go as far as their talents will take them and I am glad that, following public consultation, seeking the views of parents, schools, local authorities and charities, we can extend free school meals to more disadvantaged pupils.”

The Government claims the system will see 50,000 more pupils made eligible for free school meals than before the introduction of Universal Credit.

Labour's bid to see the provision kept for all claimants was defeated in the Commons by 312 votes to 254.