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Scottish Ministers to safeguard entitlements following UK welfare changes.
The Scottish Government will act to protect the rights of disadvantaged children to free school meals and early learning and childcare following changes to welfare being made by the UK Government, the First Minister has announced.
Following changes to working tax credits and child tax credits around 22,000 pupils in Scotland between the ages of 3 to 15 would lose their entitlement to free school meals, while around 2,000 2 year-olds who would benefit most will become ineligible for both early learning and childcare and a free school meal.
Universal entitlements for 3 and 4 year-olds to almost 16 hours a week of early learning and childcare, and for P1-3 pupils to have free school meals are unaffected by the changes.
However, the First Minister has pledged to safeguard the entitlements of thousands of other children from lower income households by changing the regulations in Scotland to ensure they remain eligible.
The First Minister said:
"Free school meals have been one of the flagship policies of this government. Access to free school meals goes beyond that in England and we have extended universal entitlement for every primary P1 to P3 pupil in Scotland. This is part of our commitment to tackling inequalities, while saving families around £380 a year per child.
"However, pupils from all ages who live in lower income households also benefit from free school meals – making sure pupils have a good meal every day is a key part of helping them to learn.
"Due to changes to working tax credits and child tax credits from the UK Government around 22,000 pupils from age 3 to 15 are set to lose their eligibility entitlement to free school meals.
"In addition, around 2,000 2-year-olds will also lose their entitlement to early years education, which the Scottish Parliament voted to extend to them last year. That's one of the impacts of the UK Government changes to welfare.
"So as part of our action to ensure those dealing with welfare reform are protected where we can help them, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will mitigate the effects on children and families who stand to become ineligible following these changes.
"Children who are eligible now, will remain eligible – regardless of the changes made by the UK Government. We will protect this essential support for many vulnerable children in Scotland."
The UK Government announced plans in its Summer Budget to reduce the income threshold for Working Tax Credit (WTC) from £6,420 to £3,850 from April 2016. It has since emerged that a knock-on effect of this reduction will see the Child Tax Credit (CTC) threshold also cut from £16,105 to £12,125.
Beyond the universal entitlements to free school meals (FSMs for P1-3) and 600 hours of annual early learning and childcare (ELC for 3 and 4-year-olds), other children can receive FSMs and ELC as 'passported benefits' if their parents/carers are in receipt of one or more welfare benefits.
Entitlement to FSM as a 'passported benefit' was expanded by the Scottish Government in 2009, while the Provision of Early Learning and Childcare (Specified Children) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2015 provided for the extension of ELC to many more two-year-olds from low income families.
The Scottish Government intends to ensure that those currently eligible for 'passported benefits' will remain so by seeking Parliamentary approval for amendments to the relevant regulations, to come into force from April 2016.