A leading children's charity has warned that thousands of England's poorest students could no longer receive free school meals under controversial Universal Credit proposals.

The Children's Society believe the government's plans will create "a benefit cliff-edge" that means 120,000 families would be worse off if they work longer hours or earn more.

Free school meals are linked to low-income benefits, which will be merged into the single credit in 2013, but the government is set to change this so that it is tied to earnings (thought to be £145 per week) in line with the "work over benefits" agenda.

Children's Society director Elaine Hindal believes this change offers the chance for the government to revolutionise the provision of free meals in schools.

"The government has an unique opportunity to extend free school meals to all low-income working families, so that no child living in poverty misses out," she said.

"This would be in line with the government's aim to make work pay by paving the way for many families to return to employment and help lift them out of poverty."

The 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.

Sign the FSM petition at www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare 

Posted 19/04/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com