A Conservative manifesto pledge to scrap 'universal' free school lunches could see as many as 900,000 children from low-income families lose their entitlement to claim the midday meal, a leading think tank has warned.
According to analysis carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) for The Observer newspaper stopping the free hot meals being given as standard to all infants aged four to seven could lead to 100,000 children from families living in relative poverty and 667,000 children from "ordinary working families" being affected.
EPI executive director Natalie Perera told The Observer: "Around 900,000 children from low-income families will lose their eligibility for free school meals under these proposals. Around two-thirds of those children are from what the Government considers to be 'ordinary working families'."
A Conservative spokesman made assurances that "all those who need it most still get free lunches".
Mrs May announced her plan to halt universal free lunches for infants on Thursday, saying that free breakfasts will be on offer instead although those from the poorest backgrounds would still be eligible to claim a lunch if needed.
According to the Tories the move would be made if they won the election as the party "don't think it is right to spend precious resources on subsidising school meals for better-off parents".
A party spokesperson said: "Instead we will give that money to headteachers, to spend on pupils' education instead.
"We will make sure all those who need it most still get free lunches - and will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school. So the most disadvantaged children will now get two free school meals a day rather than one."
According to research conducted by the EPI it is estimated that the scrapping of the lunch scheme would cost families £440 a year for each child affected and save government finances around £650 million over each 12 month period.