One million children in poverty to miss out on free school meals

The Children’s Society has warned that one million children living in poverty in England will miss out on free school meals under new universal credit proposals.

The government is planning to introduce means testing for free school meals under universal credit, which the charity is warning will fail to reach one million children in poverty and will create a ‘cliff-edge’ where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

The society’s findings reveal that once a family with one child passes the £7,400 threshold, they would need to earn £1,124 more a year to make up for the loss in free school meals - an equivalent of working 2.4 hours more each week at national living wage.

Regionally, 212,000 children are projected to miss out on free school meals in London, 130,000 children in the West Midlands and 130,000 children in the North West. The government proposals will mean that just 700,000 of the 1,700,000 school children in poverty who could be helped, will receive free school meals.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The government has a golden opportunity to ensure that almost every child in poverty in England does not go hungry at school. There are significant, proven benefits for children’s health, education and their futures in making sure they have a healthy lunch every day, but at least one million children will miss out if this change is introduced.

“Continuing to provide free school meals for all children on universal credit would not only help vulnerable children, it would also prevent low income parents being left worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise. Universal credit was designed to always make work pay, but these plans will undermine that very principle. If the government wants to show it is truly committed to tackling the growing crises of inequality and child poverty, delivering free school meals for children in low-income working families is a crucial step.”

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