Angry parents and campaigners have criticised photos of “woefully inadequate” free school meals that have appeared on social media.
Pictures showing sparse packages have been posted to Twitter, including one from a user whose family’s £30 parcel was estimated to hold just over £5 of food.
Roadside Mum’s image shows a loaf of bread, can of beans, cheese and a small selection of fruit and vegetables – apparently to last for 10 lunches – leading to criticism from Downing Street, Labour and the footballer Marcus Rashford.
However, the company which supplied it said it was only a week’s worth valued at £10.50.
#FreeSchoolMeals bag for 10 days:
2 days jacket potato with beans
8 single cheese sandwiches
2 days carrots
3 days apples
2 days soreen
3 days frubes
Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.
Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest. pic.twitter.com/87LGUTHXEu
— Roadside Mum 🐯 (@RoadsideMum) January 11, 2021
Free school meals are being sent to families as children learn from home, and Roadside Mum said they had been sent the package instead of £30 vouchers.
The Twitter user said they would have been able to buy more food if they had been given the £30 instead.
Chartwells, which supplied the food, said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter.
“For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not ten days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.
“However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.
“Our ten-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.”
— Lisa Tanner (@LisaMarieTanner) January 11, 2021
However, in an interview with the Byline Times, Roadside Mum insisted the pack was intended to last 10 days.
The government has said it will investigate the meal offerings, which are provided by other suppliers too.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The content of those food parcels are completely unacceptable.
“The DfE is looking into this urgently and the minister for children is speaking to the company responsible and making clear that boxes like this should not be given to families.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the problem needed fixing to avoid families going hungry.
The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.
Where is the money going?
This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) January 12, 2021
3 days of food for 1 family...
Just not good enough. pic.twitter.com/Y7FJEFFAma
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021
Photos submitted by families were shared to activist Jack Monroe.
Hi all. I’ve been sent LOTS of photos of the food parcels that have replaced the £30 vouchers and asked what I would do with them. I’m replying with advice privately because to do so publicly would look like justifying these ill thought through, offensively meagre scraps /1.
— Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) January 11, 2021
England and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, who has been campaigning against food poverty, wrote on Twitter: “3 days of food for 1 family… Just not good enough.
“Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home.
“Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them who probably haven’t eaten at all so their children can… We MUST do better.”
Watch: Rashford forces government u-turn on free school meals
He has since tweeted that he has spoken with Chartwells, which is meeting with the Department of Education on Tuesday.
Dr Max Davie, officer for health improvement Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, wrote to education secretary Gavin Williamson and said the photos showed food amounts that were “not nutritionally sufficient for children and young people”.
“Children who rely on free school meals have worse health outcomes than their peers and deserve proper help. The examples shared are an insult to the dignity of people who rely on this support,” he wrote.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford said she would investigate “urgently” while the DfE said its “clear guidelines” mean packages should be “nutritious and contain a varied range of food”.
I will be looking into this urgently - food parcels should cover all lunchtime meals & be nutritious - we’ve increased funding for parcels & will support local vouchers - national voucher also rolling out ASAP, working night & day on this. Hope your kids are ok @roadsidemum https://t.co/vL5XTSNgT7
— Vicky Ford MP (@vickyford) January 11, 2021
Earlier, Chartwells said said hampers were put together last week based on the cost of free school meal allowances, which works out at £11.70 a week.
With that amount raised by another £3.50 a week by the Department for Education, hampers will be “enhanced” from later this week “to reflect this”.
A spokesperson said: “We take our responsibility to provide children with access to nutritious food very seriously.
“We have worked hard to produce food hampers at incredibly short notice during these challenging times.
“Our hampers follow the DfE specifications and contain a variety of ingredients to support families in providing meals throughout the week. In the majority of instances, we have received positive feedback.
“In this instance, the image on Twitter falls short of our hamper specification and we are keen to investigate with the relevant school so we can address any operational issues that may have arisen.”
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