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The Department for Education says it is investigating free school meals packages supplied to struggling families, after pictures appearing to show their “woefully inadequate” contents were widely shared on social media.
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said she would be “urgently” look into the matter after one mother posted an image of a parcel which was estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.
The row kicked off after a tweet from a user called ‘Roadside Mum’, who said she had been given one loaf of bread, a small bag of pasta, one tin of beans, a few pieces of fruit and little else to last 10 days.
#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
Her post triggered a slew of similar posts and pictures by other parents showing similarly sparse food packages.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for the issue to be “sorted immediately”.
“The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace,” he tweeted.
“Where is the money going?
“This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”
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
Other parents have also posted pictures of their food parcels, with some highlighted by Marcus Rashford, who last year was made an MBE for his campaign work to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children during the holidays.
3 days of food for 1 family...
Just not good enough. pic.twitter.com/Y7FJEFFAma
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021
— Sabina Weeks (@Beanss33) January 11, 2021
Currently schools have two options when providing food for students eligible for free school meals:
up to £3.50 per eligible pupil, per week, where food parcels are being provided, or
up to £15 per eligible pupil, per week, where vouchers for local shops or supermarkets are being provided
It is up to each individual school to decide which they provide but the government “strongly encourages” the use of food parcels.
Chartwells, a contract food service company, responded to ‘Roadside Mum’ saying it would investigate the matter.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention, this does not reflect the specification of one of our hampers. Please can you DM us the details of the school that your child attends and we will investigate immediately.
— Chartwells (@Chartwells_UK) January 11, 2021
Chartwells’ website lists a number of options for food packages, including a two-week option for £23, which should contain:
2 x 200g Block of cheese
14 x Portions of fresh fruit: 6 x apples, 4 x easy peel oranges and 4 x bananas
16 x Portions of vegetables: cucumber, carrots, baking potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, tomato
1kg x Wholemeal penne pasta
4 x Chopped tomato tins
2 x Tuna chunks in brine
1 x Loaf of bread
9 x Healthy snacks
The Department for Education later said it was also investigating, emphasising the government has “clear guidelines for food parcels which we expect to be followed”.
We are looking into this.
We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed. Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food.https://t.co/ZBdJZqxdfK https://t.co/9sfxHPX9RJ
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) January 11, 2021
After announcing her plans to investigate, Vicky Ford also defended the use of parcels instead of vouchers for families in need.
She tweeted: “One of the reasons why some schools have used food parcels rather than vouchers is that it helps keep them in touch with families.
“Very sadly during the pandemic there has been an increase in risk to some children. Do calll @NSPCC If you are concerned about a child.”
Nearly one in five less advantaged parents say a lack of food made home-learning more difficult for children in the first lockdown, a survey published on Tuesday suggests.
Parents of children from families of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report that aspects of their home environment – such as a lack of technology, space and adequate internet – made it harder for pupils to complete schoolwork from home, according to the University of Sussex study.
It came as pupils in schools and colleges in England – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February amid the new national lockdown, PA Media reports.
Researchers warn that educational inequalities are likely to increase due to school closures as the study suggests that a switch to home learning can disproportionately disrupt the education of the most disadvantaged pupils.
The survey, of 3,409 parents in the UK, suggests that secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals (39%) were more likely to report that a lack of technology – such as laptops and computers – made learning from home more difficult, compared to 19% of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.