An angry mother has tweeted a photo of what she says is an inadequate food hamper to replace free school meals for her child.
The image has been shared more than 18,000 times on Twitter – including by footballer Marcus Rashford, who had campaigned to ensure families were supplied with food during lockdown – and who called it “unacceptable”.
It shows a loaf of bread, a bag of pasta, one can of baked beans, some cheese, three apples, two carrots, one tomato, two baked potatoes, two bananas, two malt loaf snacks and three snack size tubes of fromage frais.
Children deserve better than this…
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021
Where is this being rolled out?
If families are entitled to £30 worth of food, why is there delivery only equating to just over £5?! 1 child or 3, this what they are receiving? Unacceptable https://t.co/SNblZ1wl5P
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021
The unnamed mother, who uses the Twitter handle “Roadside Mum”, said she was sent just a few pounds worth of food to feed her child for 10 days.
Families eligible for free school meals have the option of food parcels or vouchers while schools are shut due to a third national lockdown in England.
The mother said the parcel had been issued by Chartwells, a private company contracted by the Department for Education, instead of £30 worth of vouchers.
“I could do more with £30 to be honest,” she wrote, adding that she estimated the total value of the goods to be £5.22.
Responding to suggestions that the loaf of bread in the picture was out of date, the mother said the best before date was November 2021 – not November 2020.
“It is in date and it does seem fine. To be fair it’s quite nice,” she added.
Chartwells messaged the parent directly on Twitter about her complaint, and said it was investigating.
The company tweeted: “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.”
Manchester United star Rashford tweeted that he had been in touch with Chartwells and that the firm was having a meeting with the Department for Education today.
He posted that “once food is supplied to the school network, schools have the autonomy over how the hampers are distributed”, and that the problem appeared to have been made worse by the latest lockdown.
“One thing that is clear is that there was very little communication with the suppliers that a national lockdown was coming,” said Rashford.
“We MUST do better. Children shouldn’t be going hungry on the basis that we aren’t communicating or being transparent with plans. That is unacceptable.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner also retweeted the original Twitter post.
She 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.” She urged anyone in a similar situation to get in touch.
Several other parents have since come forward and tweeted images of their parcels, including one who said they were “disgusted” at a package containing a “pathetic carrot stub”.
She told Sky’s Ashna Hurynag: “It was just very upsetting to be honest. It made me feel like a beggar. Tomato soup mix and cheese in money bags made me feel sick. I had to throw it away as I didn’t know where it had been.”
“This is the first parcel I’ve ever received. But the school were so quick at communicating with us and switching to the voucher scheme. They also added an extra £10 to this week’s allowance to apologise for the problem. The school were horrified by what we received.”
What is going on here? If you are in a similar situation and being given insufficient #FreeSchoolMeals please email me. 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 https://t.co/gaEeGoSnup
— Angela Rayner 😷 (@AngelaRayner) January 11, 2021
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 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.”
Downing Street said the contents of some free school meal food parcels sent to families was “completely unacceptable” and that the government was urgently looking into the issue.
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.”
The national free school meals voucher scheme would shortly be reopened, he added.
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 ,
— Vicky Ford MP (@vickyford) January 12, 2021
A spokesperson for Chartwells – which is not the only supplier of free school meals in the UK – told Sky News: “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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