Children will suffer for being born into poorer families when free school meal eligibility changes come into effect, a campaign group has claimed.

Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) held a public meeting following concerns over the government’s decision to introduce an annual income threshold. It means children in Year 3 and up, in families claiming Universal Credit with net earnings more than £7,400, will not be entitled for free school meals.

WeyPAW claim that the change could affect 12,500 children in Dorset. Teachers, parents, residents and councillors attended the meeting at the Old Town Hall in Weymouth on Saturday to discuss what could be done to challenge the decision and help affected families.

Speaker Lynne Hubbard, a dietitian with special knowledge of children’s nutritional needs, said: “Every nation has a duty to protect the health of its children and young people.

“School meals are worth a lot. For a family with one child it’s worth between £400 to £550, so if you have three children it can be worth around £1200 to £1600 a year. That’s a lot of money to make up.”

Lynne said if children don’t have access to nutritional meals when they are young, they risk facing problems with their health later in life.

She added: “There’s a health cost to the individual but there’s a massive health cost to society as a reflection of malnutrition. There could be a rise in diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular heart disease, even in children.”

“Children should not suffer because of being born into a family of poverty, it’s just not right. We’re going to make sure that our MPs and council in Weymouth are held to account.”

WeyPAW want local authorities to provide a free, nutritious meal at school for all children, irrespective of whether their parents or carers are on benefits or employed.

Second speaker Ali Chown, a teacher and child therapist, said: "We have to set the free school meals issue in the wider context of appalling attacks on public services we've seen under the umbrella of austerity.

"Some teachers are paying out of their own pockets to provide books, stationary and uniforms. That's cutting to the bone, that's trying to prop up a failing system because people don't like seeing others suffer.

"We are one of the richest countries in the world and 4.1 million people are living below the poverty line. That's absolutely scandalous."

WeyPAW now plan to lobby South Dorset MP Richard Drax and West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin, local councillors and residents, to attend a public consultation which they will hold later in the year. They also plan to join forces with another campaign group, Dorset Against School Cuts, to protest education funding cuts in Dorset.