LOW income parents could be better off working fewer hours under Government reforms to the benefits system, says a charity boss.

Taunton & District Citizens Advice Bureau is calling for free school meals for children of all parents on Universal Credit.

Chief officer Liz Fothergill said the new system, which is replacing six existing benefits with one monthly payment, would see a mum on the minimum wage with two young children worse off working 24 hours a week than 16.

A mum of two teenagers doing 20 hours instead of 16 would have £4 less per week.

Mrs Fothergill is calling for extra support for parents to pay for child care and for free school meals for children of all parents on Universal Credit so people can afford to work more hours.

She said: “Paying for child care is one of the biggest drains on household income and adds huge pressure on families trying to make ends meet.

“The cost of child care has gone up more than 70% in the past ten years, and for many parents it can prevent them from taking on work.

“Striking a balance between holding down a job and managing family life is a big challenge.

“People need a system which is easy to understand and gives them support with child care, and under which work always pays.

“It’s important that these small changes are made to give working families a helping hand.”

A Department for Work & Pensions spokesman said Universal Credit will replace income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

He said: “Universal Credit will help you be better off in work, start a new job or work more hours.

“There are no limits to the number of hours you can work a week. Your Universal Credit payment will reduce gradually as you earn more – you won’t lose all your benefits at once if you’re on low income.

“How much you’ll receive depends on your personal circumstances.”