More than half of all school children living in poverty, 1.2 million, are missing out on free school meals, reveals shocking new research by The Children’s Society.

And 700,000 are not entitled to free school meals at all, according to the Society’s report ‘Fair and Square’.

Yet the report shows that 91 per cent of UK adults believe that all children living in poverty should receive free school meals.

In this country, 2.2 million school children are living in poverty. The Children’s Society is so concerned that yesterday it launched a campaign to make sure that all children living in poverty can get a free school meal.

It stressed: ‘Free school meals provide vital financial support for low-income families. For almost a third of children, school lunch is their main meal of the day.’

The Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign exposes that eligibility for free school meals also has serious ramifications for families in low-paid work and those looking to move back into work.

It warned that the current situation is going to get much worse. ‘The planned introduction of Universal Credit means that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to free school meals will be scrapped. A completely new system of entitlement is set to be put into place in the next year.’

The Children’s Society, backed by several organisations including the TUC, the Association of Lecturers and ‘Teachers and 4 Children’, wants the government to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty, including low-income working families.

The Children’s Society found: ‘At the moment, lone parents working 16 or more hours a week (24 hours per week for a couple) lose their entitlement to free school meals.

‘Nearly half (45 per cent) of parents are worried about the financial implications of moving back into work or taking additional hours.

‘Six out of ten parents (60 per cent) say that free school meal eligibility has a direct impact on their decision to move back into work, or work more hours.’

Children’s Society’s Campaign for Childhood director, Elaine Hindal, said: ‘We have shown that there are literally hundreds of thousands of children living below the poverty line who aren’t getting a free school meal. There is no reasonable defence for this policy failure.’