Latest free school meals scandal

Firm with Tory links contracted to supply free school meals short-changing families with ‘woefully inadequate’ food parcels

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A company with Tory links contracted to supply free school meals has outrageously short-changed struggling families, with food parcels that are meant to be worth £30 only containing food worth little more than £5.

One mum whose children are in receipt of free school meals took to social media this week, posting an image of a free school meal box she received that is supposed to last 10 days. It contained only a tin of beans, a bag of pasta, a single tomato, two jacket potatoes, enough bread and cheese for eight single cheese sandwiches, and a handful of carrots, apples, Soreen malt loaf bars, and Frubes yoghurt tubes.

The mum, posting under the Twitter handle Roadside Mum, calculated how much she would have spent if she bought these items at her local Asda and it totaled only £5.22.

“Issued instead of £30 vouchers,” she wrote on Twitter. “I could do more with £30 to be honest.”

“Public funds were charged £30,” she added. “I’d have bought this for £5.22. The private company who have the free school meals contract made a good profit here.”

Footballer and child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford MBE, who successfully lobbied the government to continue free school meals over the Christmas and summer holidays, also took to social media to express his outrage and highlighted other pictures of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels.

“Just not good enough,” he wrote, adding, “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. This is 2021.”

During the first national lockdown when schools were closed, families who were eligible for free school meals were given £30 vouchers to purchase food.

But when schools shut again last week, schools have been “strongly encouraged” by the government to provide free school meal parcels from their school kitchens instead of using vouchers. Schools were told to only use vouchers if it wasn’t possible to put together food parcels.

The change in policy from vouchers to predominantly food parcels – provided by private companies, including Chartwells, owned by food service giant Compass, a known Tory donor – has been influenced in part by critical Tory MPs who contend vouchers are abused by families.

Tory MP Ben Bradley, who voted against the extension of free school meals over the holidays, said back in October that free school meal vouchers given last summer ‘effectively’ went to ‘crack dens’ and ‘brothels’.

Labour leader Keir Starmer slammed the latest revelations of food parcels provided by private companies like Chartwells, noting, “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.”

Unite Community national co-ordinator Liane Groves likewise criticised the latest free school meals scandal.

“It is outrageous that while struggling households are expected to make do with shockingly inadequate free school meal parcels, private companies – Tory donors no less – are profiteering from their misery,” she said.

 “This is absolutely unacceptable and must be investigated with urgency, and the government should drop its food parcel-first approach,” Groves added. “Free school meal vouchers given directly to families are a much more effective way to ensure that children are fed nutritious meals that suit their specific needs, instead of relying on private companies looking to make a quick buck.  No one should be profiting from hunger.”

By Hajera Blagg

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