by Catrin Whitehead
A demonstration will take place in Liverpool City Centre tomorrow (March 20th) to protest at the recent cut to free school meals.
Merseyside residents will take to the streets in response to a House of Commons vote from Conservatives and DUP members last week to change the rules around Universal Credit, which Labour claim will leave 24,000 Merseyside children without their free lunches.
The new legislation will introduce a financial means test for parents receiving Universal Credit as a way to determine whether or not their children are entitled to free dinners. From the 1st April, children from households earning £7,400 a year from work will lose eligibility for a hot meal. The new threshold will affect Year Three children and above, with kids in reception to Year Two unaffected. Labour also claim the new scheme will leave up to one million children in England without dinners, including the 24,000 in Merseyside.
Ellie Longman, an organiser for the demo, titled ‘No Child Will Go Hungry’, says: “It’s important that we organise this demonstration because no child can learn when they’re hungry.
“For many kids, a school dinner is the only hot meal they’ll get all day, so to take that away from them is – in my belief – just inhumane and disgusting.”
The protest will be held at Williamson Square, with teachers, parents, and children urged to come along and campaign. There will also be a uniform and food bank. The aim is to raise as much awareness as possible, with Miss Longman stating: “Obviously we’re going to make a lot of noise.”
The demonstrators aren’t the only ones angered by the cuts, with social media full of angry users voicing their disgust. One twitter user posted: “Children will always bear the brunt of austerity, whether it’s loss of free school meals, parents facing poverty, cuts to mental health or the threat of homelessness. When you stress out parents, children suffer.”
Another directly tweeted the Conservative account, asking: “Why are you passing cuts to free school meals while parliamentary bars and dining halls are still subsidised?”
The Conservatives have argued that the new legislation is a ‘transitional measure’ to ease people into Universal Credit – a six in one benefit – and that it is much more complex than Labour are suggesting. The government says current recipients of Universal Credit will be exempt from the new threshold, and the new criteria will see roughly the same amount of children eligible for free meals. However, it is difficult to estimate the full Effect until 2022 – when Universal Credit will have rolled out nationwide completely.
Ellie, a 21-year-old student from Dovecot, is amongst those who aren’t convinced by the Tories’ explanation and has insisted that, should nothing come from the demonstration, they will take further action: “They (the Conservatives) haven’t come out with a plan as to how they’re going to implement it. They’ve already admitted that people receiving universal income are going to see a reduction in their income.”
She continued: “I think its important that we get local politicians, councillors, the authorities, and of course MP’s involved and backing them.
“We’re not going to give up.”
The demonstration will be held at 6pm tomorrow at Williamson Square, with around 150 people expected to attend.