THOUSANDS of disadvantaged children across Hampshire could lose free school meal privileges under new Universal Credit proposals, the Children’s Society has said.

The children’s charity has said that as the new benefits scheme takes full swing, all families in receipt of it had been entitled to free school meals.

But it said the government was planning to introduce means testing for free school meals under the benefit, and this meant that 25,300 people across Hampshire would miss out.

However, the Department for Education has disputed the claims, insisting that more than 50,000 extra children will be entitled to free school meals through its eligibility proposals following the rollout of universal credit.

Under the proposals, the government would introduce a net income threshold of £7,400 a year before taking benefits into account in order for families to take advantage of the free school meals.

It is estimated that in Hampshire, 23,200 children out of 31,000 in poverty would miss out.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society said the government had a golden opportunity to ensure almost every child in poverty in England did not go hungry at school.

He added: “There are significant, proven benefits for children’s health, educationand 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.”