I was flabbergasted to read this morning that the government's plans to reform the benefits system could effectively reduce in one stroke the number of pupils entitled to free school meals.

According to the Children's Society the government's plans for Universal Credit will create "a benefit cliff-edge" meaning that 120,000 families would be worse off if they work longer hours or earn more.

With growing number of teachers already concerned that children are losing concentration not just due to lack of sleep but because of a basic lack of FOOD, then the decision to remove meals is worrying... I would even go so far as to say it's bonkers!

Why? Well it is a well-known fact that for many poorer children, a meal at school is their only decent hot meal of the day. Remove this and they may effectively be "starved" of the nutrients they need. The parents of these children, already under huge economic pressure, could not then be blamed for resorting to filling their little tummies with cheaper, fast foods. I am not saying that all parents who find themselves in this situation will do so, but "junk" foods are often cheaper and certainly more convenient than healthier options. Of course, these "convenience" foods are often calorie rich and nutrient poor - all key components contributing to Britain's growing obesity epidemic.

The crisis is serious: government figures published earlier this year revealed that a staggering 25 per cent of children are already overweight or obese when they start school at the age of four.

Southwark Council were so mindful of all of this that last year they made the somewhat controversial decision to pay for ALL children to receive free school meals, thus reducing the stigma. They sensibly argued that not only would all children benefit nutritionally but they would also be better able to concentrate and learn in the classroom. Clever Southwark council!

Of course, long-term strategy would also see the economic fallacy of such a short term goal. Health problems equal more cost to the taxpayer, thus cancelling out any alleged monetary "benefit".

Ultimately this policy does not work; not morally, not socially, nor economically. Add health implications into the mix and there are so many flaws it's like making a healthy omelette with no eggs…

The Children's Society estimate it would cost £500m to extend free school meals to everyone on Universal Credit and have launched an online petition campaigning for FSM for all those living in poverty by October 2012.

If you share our distaste for this unfair and discriminatory policy please show your support for the Children's Society Free School Meals (FSM) petition by signing here: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare

Written by Penny Hosie Comment on this blog by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com