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NEWS / Food Poverty

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

New findings from The Children’s Society have revealed that one million children living in poverty in England will miss out on free school meals under universal credit proposals. A coalition of organisations is urging the public to respond to the Government’s consultation. 

As universal credit has been rolling out, all families in receipt of the new benefit have been automatically entitled to free school meals. However, the government is planning to introduce means testing for free school meals under universal credit, which The Children’s Society warns 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.

Sustain, which campaigns to increase the rollout and uptake of Free School Meals, as part of its work to improve children’s food, their health and to alleviate food poverty, is encouraging its members to respond to the consultation by the deadline of 11 January.

Individuals - respond via the Children’s Society action


Organisations respond directly to the Government

Figures from The Children’s Society show that 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 more each week at national living wage, to make up for the loss in 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.”

The regions worst affected by child poverty stand to lose the most from the proposed eligibility criteria. In London 212,000 children are projected to miss out on free school meals, in the West Midlands with 130,000 children and the North West 130,000 children.

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 is completed. Under the benefits system that universal credit is replacing, only families where parents are working too few hours to claim working tax credits are entitled to free school meals. 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.

The consultation on free school meals entitlement under universal credit closes on 11 January 2018. The Children’s Society is asking supporters to submit responses to the consultation via its website at:

Find out more about Sustain's work to improve children's food, encourage uptake of Free School Meals in London, and tackle food poverty nationally.

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Food Poverty: Over 8 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. Sustain is working with communities, third-sector organisations, local authorities and government, aiming to make sure everyone can eat well.



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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.