Free school meals: Mother's 'sadness' at 'mean' food parcel

5 days ago 12

Published2 minutes ago

image copyrightPA Media

image captionEngland and Man Utd footballer Marcus Rashford is a high-profile campaigner for children on free school meals

A mother who posted a photo on social media of a food parcel she received has told of the "sense of sadness" she felt on seeing what it contained.

The mother, who wants to be anonymous, told the BBC: "As I unpacked that food parcel... and looked at the contents, it felt very sad and depressing."

Chartwells, the firm which supplied the parcel, has apologised.

The education secretary said schools will be able to offer vouchers rather than food parcels from next week.

Gavin Williamson told the education select committee on Wednesday that he was "absolutely disgusted" by the photo of the food parcel's contents, and that his department had made it clear "this sort of behaviour is just not right [and] will not be tolerated".

He said the government would "support any school that needs to take action" and "name and shame those that are not delivering against the standards" set by the Department for Education.

Footballer Marcus Rashford, a high-profile campaigner for children on free school meals, shared images of some parcels online, calling them "not good enough".

He met with the company and tweeted on Wednesday that he had spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had assured him that "he is committed to correcting the issue", and that a "full review of the supply chain is taking place".

Food parcels have been sent to pupils in England who would normally be eligible for free school meals while schools are closed during the coronavirus lockdown.

The national voucher scheme would provide supermarket vouchers through an online portal. The government had previously used this scheme during the first lockdown.

A row broke out after the mother, using the online name Roadside Mum, posted a photo on Twitter of two carrots, two potatoes, a tin of baked beans and a small range of other food items, which she calculated to have cost about £5. The post prompted others to complain about the quality and quantity of the food they had received in similar parcels.

The mother, who is disabled, had thought it was supposed to last 10 school days and should have been worth £30.

image copyrightRoadside Mum

image caption"Public funds were charged £30. I'd have bought this for £5.22," said Twitter user Roadside Mum of the parcel she received

She told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: "As I unpacked that food parcel in my living room and looked at the contents, it felt very sad and very depressing.

"One of my children came in and saw me laying this out on the floor, and I said I was going to picture it because it didn't look like a lot.

"I could see the child's realisation that this is what I've been given to eat for a week and the sense of sadness.

"Where has the rest of the food gone? This is meant to be a week's food. Why is it so mean?"

Chartwells, the company that provided the parcel, said it was actually only intended to last one school week and had cost £10.50 for food, packing and distribution.

The firm said it had been required to provide thousands of food parcels "at extremely short notice" - but acknowledged it was insufficient and apologised.

media captionJack Monroe: Free school meals "replaced with a poverty picnic"

'What am I supposed to do with one potato?'

image copyrightRachel Rodgers

image captionRachel said she was not 'impressed' with the amount of food in one parcel she received

Rachel Rodgers, a mother of three children aged 14, eight, and five, said she was not "impressed" with the amount of food provided in a parcel for her youngest child.

Rachel, from Essex, says: "I got so much more with the vouchers. I always looked for meat and vegetables on offer at the supermarket, so I made the vouchers stretch even more.

"What am I supposed to do with one potato?"

Rachel, who receives food parcels for two youngest children and a voucher for her eldest, says it would have been "nice to get a little more" food, adding that "even sandwich meat would have been good".

'It's disheartening'

image captionOne mother said she was 'disappointed' by the food parcel she received for her two children, who are at secondary school

One mother of three says she was "disappointed" by the contents of food parcels.

The mum, who does not want to be identified, says the food box she received for two of her children at secondary school contained sliced frozen bread "[which] did not stay fresh"; two slices of cheese that [were] "hard and taste disgusting", as well as beans, tinned tomatoes, apples, pasta and potatoes.

She says her youngest child, who is in primary school, received a parcel of five rolls "that were going stale", grated cheese, three packs of crackers, five yoghurts and packs of biscuits.

The mother adds: "It is a good job I already had some cheese and bacon in the fridge, because this is disheartening.

"We have never had support feeding our children through the holidays even when I was young. We need help now."

The initial social media images of food parcels drew widespread criticism.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted that the food appeared to be "woefully inadequate" and said it needed "sorting immediately".

And Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner, called on companies to provide "real food and real amounts that will really help families".

Meanwhile, Dr Max Davie, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the contents of the food parcels were "not nutritionally sufficient for children and young people".

In a statement on Tuesday, Children's minister Vicky Ford said that catering companies must "urgently" improve the quality of food parcels being sent out, to ensure eligible children received "a healthy, nutritious lunch that will give them the fuel they need to focus on learning at home".

Chartwells, which is owned by Compass group, has pledged to refund costs where food parcels have not met its standards, and to contact schools to understand where shortages have occurred, while also apologising to anyone affected.

It has also said the firm will further enhance its food parcels following the Department for Education's additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child, in line with nutritional guidelines.

What does guidance on food parcels say?

Parcels should contain food items rather than pre-prepared meals due to food safety considerationsMinimise the fridge and freezer space that schools and families will need to store foodsContain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches for their child/children across the weekNot rely on parents having additional ingredients at home to prepare mealsNot contain items restricted under the school food standardsCater for pupils who require special diets, for example, allergies, vegetarians or religious diets - schools should ensure there are systems in place to avoid cross-contaminationContain appropriate packaging sizes for household use, rather than wholesale sizes

In Wales, the provision of free school meals during the holidays has been extended by a year, and the Northern Ireland Executive made a pledge in November to provide free school meals in holidays until Easter 2022.

In Scotland - where holiday provision is currently promised up to Easter 2021 - both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to fund free school meals for all primary school pupils during term-time and holidays if they win the 2021 Scottish election.

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