The children’s minister has promised to “look urgently” into images posted by parents on social media revealing inadequate free school meal parcels sent to families by food companies.
The inadequate parcels – some appearing to include half a pepper wrapped in cling film, half a tomato, a carrot stub – have been sent out to parents in place of free school meals for their children after schools were closed last week.
“Food parcels should cover all lunchtime meals and be nutritious”, Ford tweeted.
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
It follows footballer Marcus Rashford tweeting this morning that one food company at the centre of the accusations, Chartwells, is due to meet ministers today.
He said from a conversation with Chartwells it was “clear that there was very little communication with the suppliers that a national lockdown was coming,” adding that children going hungry was “unacceptable”.
The footballer also raised concerns that free school meal hampers are supposed to provide 10 lunch meals per child across two weeks, and queried why vulnerable pupils are only being provided with one meal a day.
Recently updated government guidance says one of the benefits of using food parcels is “the confidence that a nutritious and varied range of food is being provided”.
Food parcels or vouchers are meant to be available to families eligible for free school meals while schools are closed to most pupils during the third lockdown.
Tory donor’s former firm accused
Some parents tweeted that their parcels were from food firm Chartwells, which is part of food services company Compass Group, described in the FT as the world’s largest caterer.
The company has contracts with local authorities, multi academy trusts and individual schools, and receives funding based on their free school meal pupil numbers, a spokesperson confirmed.
The group’s former chair Paul Walsh, who stepped down as a director in December, is a former member of David Cameron’s business advisory group. He donated £10,000 to the Conservative Party in 2010.
Chartwells said in a statement their “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.”
Regarding one picture claiming to show a £30 hamper containing only about £5 worth of food, Chartwells said the image “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.”
The firm also said it was “further enhancing” its food parcels following a decision by the Department for Education to allocate an additional £3.50 per week per child.
Meanwhile Chartwells sister company, Chartwells Independent, serves private schools and claims to offer “impeccable lavish hospitality catering”.
‘Teachers are buying fruit and vegetables’
Anti-poverty campaigner and chef Jack Monroe has shared further images, comparing the contents of the food parcels with the government’s own legislation on free school meal standards, which have requirements around portions of starchy food, fruit and vegetables and protein that the food parcels appear to fail to meet.
Blackheath. Chartwells again. For a five year old for a week. Lettuce has basically no calories, it’s crunchy water fgs, what are they thinking?! Compare and contrast to the Dept of Educations own FSM legislation on food standards and provision for free school meals. pic.twitter.com/2AXnxrHxom
— Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) January 12, 2021
Meanwhile a parent tweeted that “our school was disgusted with our caterers” after food included half a pepper and half a tomato, adding the school had been “fantastic” and “given us extra”. Another direct message to Monroe said a teacher was arriving with a box of fruit and vegetables she had bought herself.
Other pictures showed two slices of ham and three slices of cheese alongside slices of bread, sometimes wrapped in clingfilm. Most packages appear only to provide one can of beans or a small plastic bag of pasta for the 10 days.
Last year Schools Week revealed that catering firms were criticised for the quality of food provided for pupils during the March lockdown.
It’s not the first time Chartwells has been in hot water. In 2014, the company was warned of legal action and a possible compensation fine over failures that led to children in Dorset not receiving school meals, including ongoing problems over mouldy sandwiches.