An estimated 40,000 children in need are missing out on free school meals, Scotland's pressure groups told MSPs today ahead of major welfare reforms.
Welfare campaigners lobbied Holyrood hard following a pledge to protect vulnerable households from losing "passported" benefits under the coalition's new universal credit scheme.
The scheme, which Con-Dem ministers claim will simplify the benefits system, will scrap existing criteria for free school meals, uniforms and other schemes, that consider the household's dependency on benefits.
Instead, future benefit allocation will be based on means-testing of household income.
The SNP passed measures last month to ensure school meals would remain free for children eligible under universal credit.
But the Child Poverty Action Group told MSPs on Holyrood's welfare reform committee that many households still stood to lose out.
More than one in five children were officially recognised as living in poverty according to the most recent figures, or an estimated 139,800 schoolchildren.
However the corresponding figures for children receiving free school meals worked out to just 97,096 schoolchildren, meaning roughly a quarter of eligible children were missing out.
Child Poverty's Scotland head John Dickie said he wanted MSPs to go further, calling on the SNP to extend free school meals to the other 40,000.
"Short of the provision of free healthy lunches to all school pupils, the introduction of universal credit from October 2013 creates an opportunity to ensure free school lunch entitlement criteria is reviewed to bridge this entitlement gap," he said.
Mr Dickie added that free school meals and school clothing were proven to help household budgets, with free school meals alone potentially saving a family with two children more than £700 per year.
But he said that more children needed the scheme and scrapping means-testing would help remove the stigma.
One Parent Families Scotland's Marion Davis agreed, adding that lone mothers were already the most vulnerable to changes in income support and job seekers allowances.
"We have looked at this very closely and we believe strongly that there are ways to improve access to free school meals," she said.
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