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Thousands of Norfolk children in poverty could miss out on free school meals, charity warns

PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:13 19 December 2017

A child collecting their school dinner.  Picture: James Bass

A child collecting their school dinner. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2013

More than 12,000 children in poverty in Norfolk could miss out on free school meals under universal credit proposals, a children’s charity says.

The Children’s Society estimates that 12,600 children in Norfolk - and almost 109,000 around the east of England - will miss out on the meals under government proposals to introduce means testing.

The charity has warned it could create a “cliff-edge”, where many families would be better off taking a pay cut.

The figures estimate that roughly 20,300 school children in Norfolk and 18,400 in Suffolk are in poverty. They say 11,600 in Suffolk would miss out on 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.”

He said continuing to provide free school meals for children in families on universal credit would not only help vulnerable children, but would 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,” he said.

“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 charity’s figures 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 more hours each week at national living wage, to make up for the loss in free school meals.

The consultation on free school meals entitlement under universal credit closes on January 11, 2018.

The Children’s Society is asking supporters to submit responses to the consultation via its website, by clicking here.

• Are you going to be affected by the issue? Let us know by emailing lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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