New research claims 30,000 children across Essex could miss out on free school meals after plans were announced to introduce means-testing for families on Universal Credit.
All children belonging to families on Universal Credit - a new a social security benefit which replaces six means-tested benefits and tax credits - are currently eligible to receive free school meals.
But if the government proposals go ahead, only children from families earning less than £7,400 will still be entitled.
Families on Universal Credit earning more than £7,400 a year will be required to pay £400 a year for their child to receive school meals.
According to figures from the Children’s Society, 25 per cent of children in Essex are currently living in poverty.
Of those 47,200 school children in poverty, 30,300 would miss out on free school meals under these new proposals, the society claims.
Essex Euro MP Alex Mayer said: "These figures confirm just how out of touch this Conservative government is with families on benefits, struggling just to get by from week to week.
"Whoever has decided that earning £7,400 a year means you are suddenly well-off enough to see an extra £400 leave the budget simply has no clue about the challenges that families in poverty are facing.
"We must not forget that the purpose of free school meals is to ensure that all children get a nutritional meal, essential to make sure they develop both inside and outside the classroom.
"A Labour government would bring in universal free school meals at primary school, to ensure no child is left hungry at school.
"These proposals bring the risk that thousands of children across Essex will be left hungry at school.
"I urge the government to think again before introducing means testing for free school meals for families on Universal Credit. They should be fighting inequality, not make it worse."