New research just published by researchers at the University of Dundee demonstrates that the current system of free school meals is failing many of the most needy children.
Instead Dr Carlo Morelli and Dr Paul Seaman, both of the Department of Economic Studies at the University, conclude that there are direct advantages in providing free school meals for all children.
The researchers used data from the British Household Panel Survey to carry out their study. Their findings are contained in a paper, "Universal versus Targeted Benefits: The distributional effects of free school meals" published in Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy.
"At the moment the distribution of free school meals is based on certain benefits which low-income families receive, but the targetted groups in this system are so narrow that they are missing large sections of the very poorest children," said Dr Morelli.
"There are a lot of kids falling through the gaps. The qualifying benefits to receive free school meals at present are too narrow, and they don't cater, for instance, to families who have suffered a sudden or temporary loss of income."
The study finds that the current system of free school meals is the least effective method of welfare provision. Other methods of targeting are found to be more effective than the current system while universal provision is found to be the only mechanism for consistently providing welfare to all low income households.
The study concludes that "it is hard to conclude that the current system represents anything other than a wholly inadequate method of reducing child poverty."