More than 90,000 children living in poverty in the South West will miss out on free school meals under universal credit proposals - a children's charity has warned.

The Children's Society's chief executive has criticised the government for missing a 'golden opportunity' to ensure children living in poverty do not go hungry in school after plans to introduce a means-tested system were announced.

As universal credit has been rolling out, families in receipt of the new benefit have been automatically entitled to free school meals.

However, under universal credit, the government plans to introduce means-testing for free school meals, which the Children’s Society warned would fail to reach around 90,000 children in poverty in the South West.

The society added the change would create a ‘cliff-edge’ where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

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."

He added there were proven, significant benefits for children’s health, education and future in ensuring they have a healthy lunch every day.

Figures from the Children’s Society show once a family with one child passes the £7,400 threshold, they would need to earn £1,124 a year more - the equivalent of working 2.4 hours, at national living wage extra each week - to make up for the loss in free school meals.

Mr Reed said: "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."

He added universal credit was designed to make work pay, but the plans would 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,” he said.

The Children’s Society claim if the government continued to offer free school meals to all children whose families claim universal credit, around two million children from poor and low-income families in England would benefit once roll out was completed.

The society said under the benefits system universal credit is replacing, only families where parents are working too few hours to claim working tax credits are entitled to free school meals and government proposals mean just 700,000 of the 1,700,000 school children in poverty who could be helped, would receive free school meals.

The society is now urging members of te public to take part in a government consultation which will close on January 11.

To submit your response visit