Government to investigate ‘woefully inadequate’ free school meal parcels

12 January 2021, 11:17 | Updated: 13 January 2021, 12:19

Several parents have come forward to criticise food parcels
Several parents have come forward to criticise food parcels. Picture: @RoadsideMum/Twitter

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Government has promised to investigate after images showing "woefully inadequate" free school meal parcels were shared online.

Children's Minister Vicky Ford said she was "urgently" looking into the matter after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel which was estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.

Number 10 branded the parcels in the images "completely unacceptable", while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the situation “a disgrace”.

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Twitter user Roadside Mum was among those to share an image, writing: "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."

She said the parcel had been issued by Chartwells, a private company contracted by the Department for Education, instead of £30 worth of vouchers.

She estimated the cost of the food provided was £5.22 based on prices at Asda.

"I could do more with £30 to be honest," she wrote.

Several other parents have come forward and shared images of food parcels they have received.

A parent from South Shields shared this image of her food parcel
A parent from South Shields shared this image of her food parcel. Picture: LBC
Another parent, from Haslingden in Lancashire, shared this
Another parent, from Haslingden in Lancashire, shared this. Picture: LBC

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "We're aware of those images circulating on social media, and it is clear that the contents of those food parcels are completely unacceptable.

"The Department for Education is looking into this urgently and the minister for children, Vicky Ford, is speaking to the company responsible and they will be making it clear that boxes like this should not be given to families."

Sir Keir tweeted: "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."

Chartwells, which is part of the Compass Group, responded to Roadside Mum saying they would investigate.

They said: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention, this does not reflect the specification of one of our hampers."

The company added in a statement: “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.”

Chartwells’ website lists a number of options for food packages.

This includes 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

Other Labour MPs have taken to social media to criticise the situation.

The party's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "If the government is allowing companies to make money by providing cut price meals for hungry children we will fight for change. No child should be going hungry."

Shadow minister for children Tulip Siddiq wrote: "I’m furious about the pictures circulating of woeful food some of our schoolchildren are being given to survive on.

"It’s not acceptable and I’m meeting the Children’s Minister tomorrow and will raise directly. We must give our children the best healthy start in life."

Jess Phillips added: "Remember when Conservatives said if you give this money to families it ends up in "crack dens" I'll expect the same thing said about what the private company is spending the £25 quid on?"

After announcing her plans to investigate, Ms Ford 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 call @NSPCC If you are concerned about a child."