Children missing out on free school meals

Hundreds of thousands of children will lose out on free school meals because of reforms being introduced to welfare entitlement next year, the Children’s Society has warned.

The charity’s Fair and Square report warns that the introduction of a single Universal Credit means that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to free school meals, such as Job Seekers’ Allowance and Working Tax Credit, will be scrapped.

Free school meals are given to children in households working less than 16 hours a week and earning less than £7,500 a year.

However, the report warns that families that work more hours would reach a “cliff edge” where the cost of losing the free school meal would exceed the benefit of working longer hours.

The Children’s Society estimates that 120,000 poor families would lose their free school meal if they earned more than £7,500.

“This effectively means that you lose money for earning more or working longer,” the report said.

"Because of how universal credit entitlement is structured – with high withdrawal rates of benefits when earning more or working longer hours – many of the families affected will have to earn far more before they recover the loss of free school meals."

To be entitled to the free school meal, families would have to work fewer hours or take a pay cut.

The Children’s Society has launched a petition to coincide with the findings of the report calling upon the Government to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty in England by October 2012.

Children living in poverty are also regarded by the charity to be those from low-income working families.

“The Government need to consider alternative options for provision of FSM which do not create a benefit cliff edge that leaves low income families worse off for earning more,” the report states.

“We believe that the best way to address this is to extend FSM to children in all families eligible to receive the Universal Credit.”

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