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Free School Meal Eligibility Cuts Go Ahead After Tory MPs Vote For Universal Credit Changes

Tory MPs have voted for controversial cuts to free school meals in England – despite protecting Northern Ireland from similar curbs.

Labour staged a last-gasp bid to block the changes to universal credit benefit thresholds, but was defeated by 312 votes to 254.

Crucially, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which is propping up Theresa May’s government – failed to back Labour’s motion.

In a rare English-only breakdown of the vote, the Commons deputy speaker revealed the Labour move was defeated by 282 to 214 votes.

Charities and other campaigners claim that up to a million children will be denied eligibility for free lunches under the welfare reforms.

But Education Secretary Damian Hinds rejected those figures, accused Labour of scaremongering and insisted that 50,000 more youngsters would benefit than at present.

Labour points out that the cuts planned for England stand in sharp contrast to the situation in Northern Ireland, where children of the “working poor” will get stronger protection.

English families on universal credit will see the income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7,400 a year.

But in Northern Ireland, where the Government has just taken direct control of spending budgets, the same threshold for eligibility will be nearly double that rate, at £14,000.

May already faces claims that she has “bought” the Democratic Unionist Party’s support with a pledge of £1bn in extra funds for Northern Ireland, at a time when the rest of the UK continues to suffer from Tory austerity.

However, Labour won a partial victory on separate plans to axe childcare vouchers this April.

Amid fears of defeat, the Government decided to postpone the change for six months after DUP MPs complained at the possible impact on the lower paid.

More follows soon.