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Fair and Square: loss of free school meals 'will stop parents working'.

According to a report from the Children's Society, the Universal Credit system that is to be introduced in October 2013 to merge low-income benefits means that 350,000 children will lose their free school meals.

The Fair and Square report states that reforms to welfare entitlement mean that the government will stop paying for certain benefits including free meals if a household earns over 7,500 [pounds sterling].

Elaine Hindal, Director of the Children's Society 'Campaign for Childhood', said: 'If the government introduces a free school meals earnings threshold into the Universal Credit, then as many as 120,000 families could end up in the perverse situation where they are better off taking a pay cut, or working fewer hours. This could mean 350,000 children suffering as a result.'

Currently, around 700,000 children in poverty in England are not entitled to receive free school meals, even though they are from low-income, working families.

CPHVA Professional Officer, Ros Godson, said: 'School nurses are very concerned that those children who lose their entitlement to free school meals will not be able to afford school lunches and will have to bring food from home. However, as more families become poorer owing to (English) government policies, these children may have to eat poorer-quality food'.

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A spokesperson for the Children's Society said: 'As well as providing vital financial support for low-income families, free meals also have important health and educational benefits for the children who receive them.

'Evidence shows that eating a healthy school meal improves children's concentration during afternoon lessons and can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour. Nutritious school meals can also help children to develop healthy eating habits and have the potential to reduce health inequalities'.

The Children's Society is recommending that the government promotes work incentives for parents by extending free meal entitlements to all school-aged children and families who receive universal credit. By extending eligibility they estimate that an extra 1.3 million children in England would receive free school meals.

Children's minister, Sarah Teather, commented: 'We remain totally committed to continuing to provide free school meals to children from the poorest families. We are reforming welfare to get more people into jobs, as that is the surest way of cutting poverty. The reforms mean we will have to think hard about the best way to decide who is eligible for free school meals so they continue to be targeted at those who need them the most. No plans have yet been set and we will be consulting later this year about the best way forward'.

The charity is also recommending that, to reduce the stigma attached to children receiving school meals, all schools should introduce a cashless distribution system. It also wants the government to continue to look at ways in which it can improve the quality and nutritional value of free school meals.
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Title Annotation:NEWS ROUND-UP
Publication:Community Practitioner
Date:Jun 1, 2012
Words:480
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