All children living in income poverty in Wales should receive a free school meal, a think tank has said.
The Bevan Foundation said changes in eligibility rules with the introduction of universal credit, would still leave 55,000 children with no meal at school.
The Welsh Government says its plan to restrict free dinners to children from families with earnings up to £7,400 will mean 3,000 more pupils get them.
The foundation defines poverty as a family earning 60% of the median wage.
At present in Wales just over 76,000 children are eligible for free school meals, or 16% of students.
They currently receive them if their parents quality for certain benefits, but this does not include working tax credits.
However universal credit will roll all benefit payments into one, including working tax credits, and under current rules many more children – nearly 50% – would be eligible for free meals.
The government is currently consulting on its plan to limit free meals to families earning up to £7,400 and who qualify for universal credit.
They say if they do not set a threshold it will create “unaffordable costs”.
The Bevan Foundation’s alternative suggestions:
- Free school meals for all, or at least for children up to Year 2 as is the case in England and Scotland
- No introduction of an income threshold, so all universal credit claimant families qualify
- An income threshold relevant to an individual family’s circumstances, so larger families have a lower threshold to meet
Dr Steffan Evans, from the foundation, said it was calling on the Welsh Government to include all families receiving universal credit.
“If the state thinks the family needs help with universal credit, then a child should get a free meal. That way no child living below the poverty line would go hungry.
“The health and educational benefits of a healthy, balanced diet are well known. Increasing the number of children who get a free school meal would help to reduce inequalities in health now and in later life.
“This is a once-in-a-decade chance to change the rules.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We note the Bevan Foundation’s contribution to the consultation and are now considering all responses in detail before making an announcement on how we intend to proceed.”