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Row over free school meals is ‘fake news’ says MP Steve Barclay

Local MP Steve Barclay has robustly denied claims that hundreds of Fenland children could lose their free school meals after voting to lower the threshold at which families become eligible.

At present a total of 1,914 children – 1,323 primary aged and 591 secondary pupils – are claiming free schools meals across 32 primary schools and four secondary schools.

Murrow Primary and Wisbech St Mary Schools have the highest percentage of their pupils enjoying a hot dinner – 29 per cent and 34 per cent respectively – and Thomas Clarkson has the most secondary pupils with 17 per cent of its cohort claiming a free meal.

There are no figures to show how many families who are entitled are not currently claiming.

Last week MPs voted overwhelmingly to introduce an eligibility income threshold of £7,400 – excluding benefits – which means families with a total income of £18,000 to £24,000, with benefits, will be able to claim.

As a result of the change there was a national outcry alleging that by 2020 more than a million children would be losing the opportunity of a free meal.

But an angry Mr Barclay claimed the suggestion was “fake news” and said in reality 50,000 more children will be tucking into a free hot lunch by 2020.

“This is fake news put out by the Labour party. It is not true, Channel 4’s Fact Checker found the claims were not true and that more children would be entitled to free school meals as a result of the changes,” he said.

He added the changes make it fairer for lower income families because it means entitlement will be on income and not on hours worked. He also pointed out that the SNP in Scotland have introduced a similar threshold of £7,320 and the Labour-led Welsh government was also considering the change.

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