Thousands of Dorset schoolchildren could lose their free meals – according to campaigners organising a public meeting in Weymouth this week.

Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) say that changes to the income levels at which benefits can be claimed will mean children from Year 3 and up (age 7-8) will lose free school meals if their family has an income more than £7,400 under the new Universal Credit benefit system. The previous limit was more than double this.

The Government say the changes to Universal Credit are not designed to save money but to target those in need more accurately.

Education minister Nadhim Zahawi said around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal by 2022 compared with the previous benefits system.

When Universal Credit was rolled out in the Weymouth area in December it was said that more children ought to receive financial support as a result of the new system.

But WeyPAW claim that the change could hit 13,000 children in Dorset – especially in Weymouth and Portland, where, according to Public Health England, over a fifth of children live in low-income families.

Said one of the group’s founders Phil Marfleet: “We fear that the impact locally could be worse than many other areas.

“We are not able to say for certain how many people are already worse off, or will be worse off, but given the official levels of poverty and low wages it seems certain that the numbers will rise dramatically.”

And he warns there could be a potentially serious consequence for local schools, especially those which have relatively high numbers receiving free school meals.

“The Pupil Premium is directly linked to free school meal places so it could result in further cuts to school budgets, making the local situation even worse than it already is.”

“It hasn’t happened yet and I hope that it won’t but I would like to challenge anyone in a position of power to tell me that this isn’t true.”

The Weymouth meeting is being held at the Old Town Hall in High West Street at 2pm on Saturday, April 28.

Speakers include Lynne Hubbard, a dietitian with special knowledge of children’s nutritional needs, and Alison Chown, a teacher and expert in children’s wellbeing.

Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) believe that local authorities should provide a free, nutritious meal at school for all children, irrespective of whether their parents or carers are on benefits or employed.