Free school meals: Children's Society attacks Universal Credit's proposals

by Paul Francis

As many as 27,800 children in poverty in Kent stand to lose out on free school meals under Universal Credit proposals, a charity has claimed.

The Children's Society says the government has ensured families in receipt of the new benefit automatically are entitled to free school meals.

However, under plans to introduce means testing for free school meals, the charity says a cliff edge will be created where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

Tens of thousands of children in Kent could miss out on free school meals, a charity has warned

Figures from the charity show that once a family with one child passes the £7,400 earnings threshold, they would need to earn £1,124 more a year to make up for the loss.

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.

42,100 school children in Kent are living in poverty, of which an estimated 27,800 could lose the right to free school meals - the highest figure in the South East

"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.”

According to the charity's figures, which are based on government data, 42,100 school children in Kent are living in poverty, of which an estimated 27,800 could lose the right to free school meals - the highest figure in the South East.

The charity contends if the government continued to offer free school meals to all children whose families are on Universal Credit, around two million children from poor and low income families in England would benefit once the rollout is completed.

Under the plans, however, 700,000 out of 1.7 million children in poverty would have free school meals.

Universal Credit is the system being rolled out by the government to replace six benefits including income support, housing benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance.

A consultation on free school meals entitlement for those on universal credit ends in January.

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