19/04/2012 04:52 BST | Updated 17/06/2012 06:12 BST

Fair and Square: Every Child Living in Poverty Should Get a Free School Meal

The government has a golden opportunity to help alleviate poverty for tens of thousands of children. A golden opportunity to change the lives of so many families who are struggling day to day to buy food and heat their homes.

Over the coming months it will consult on the future of free school meals. The planned introduction of Universal Credit means that a completely new system of entitlement needs to be put into place in the next year.

At the moment lone parents working 16 or more hours a weeks (or normally 24 hours a week for a couple) are not eligible for free school meals - no matter how little they earn. Six of out of ten parents say that free school meal eligibility has a direct impact on their decision to move back into work, or work more hours.

The Children's Society has today launched its Fair and Square campaign, calling for all children living in poverty can get a free school meal.

The facts are compelling. At the moment, more than half of all schoolchildren living in poverty in England- 1.2 million - are missing out on a free school meal. And 700,000 of those children are not even entitled to one. This is unacceptable.

There is clear evidence that free school meals provide vital financial support to struggling families. For almost a third of children in families we surveyed, school lunch is their main meal of the day.

Not forgetting that eating a healthy meal at lunch-time improves children's concentration and can have improve classroom behaviour. Nutritious school meals for disadvantaged children can also help develop healthy eating habits.

Extending free school meals to all children in poverty is a common-sense argument that already has widespread public support. When we polled adults across the UK, nine out of ten agreed that all children living in poverty should get a free school meal.

And several organisations, including the Trades Union Congress, Association of Lecturers and Teachers and Save the Children, have already signed up to the campaign, with many more to follow.

The government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020. So when its consultation on free school meals opens next month, it has a real opportunity to move some way to honouring this pledge.

We urge ministers to listen - not just to The Children's Society and other professional bodies. But the voices of the vast majority of adults up and down the country. Who know the huge difference extending entitlement will make to the lives their neighbours, friends - or even themselves.