Politics

Government investigating “unacceptable” food parcels

A school lunch – the government has under fire for providing "woefully inadequate" food parcels.
A school lunch (Source: Lunch I Skolan, via. Wikimedia Commons).
By Morgan Perry | Political Editor

The government has said it is investigating “completely unacceptable” food parcels, after parents posted pictures of hampers received in place of free school meals on the internet. 

Some of the food parcels posted on Twitter included – reportedly for one child for five days – half a pepper and a handful of grated cheese, which has been emptied into a coin bag.

The food parcels are supposed to contain £30 of food, though one parent who priced up their parcel counted just £5.22 in food items. 

Other Twitter users have been quick to cost the food parcels, highlighting that £30 will buy you much more food than has been provided to struggling parents.

The government told the BBC that meals should contain sufficient ingredients to make “healthy lunches” throughout the week. 

Schools are currently shut across the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to feed the country’s most vulnerable children in his latest television address, however many parents have been left dismayed by the offering.


“Just not good enough”

The government has come under fire for its response to free school meals throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, it had refused to extend free school meal vouchers throughout school holidays.

At the time, the government claimed that existing support was already sufficient to ensure that children didn’t go hungry in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. 

The Tories later U-turned, following a campaign headed by footballer-turned-activist Marcus Rashford. 

The cost to feed Britain’s most vulnerable children throughout the school holidays is reported to be around £400m. For comparison, the government has already spent more than £12 billion on their COVID-19 track and trace system, in addition to proposing more than £15 billion be added to the UK defence budget. 

In response to the images circulating the internet, Rashford said the parcels were “just not good enough”. He shared an extensive thread on Twitter, which includes images of some of the parcels received by children throughout England. 

“One thing that is clear is that there was very little communication with the suppliers that a national lockdown was coming. 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,” he added.


“Beautiful canapés” and patisserie boxes

Private caterers Chartwells – who are owned by one of the world’s largest catering firms, Compass Group – had been credited with the distribution of some of the parcels posted online.

After a meeting with Rashford, the firm said it was investigating the standard of its parcels and promised to offer “free breakfast” to its hampers from the end of January. 

Though whilst the company investigates, some have been quick to compare the catering provided to vulnerable children across the country to that provided by the company to private schools. Sister company, Chartwells Independent, has come under fire for providing “beautiful canapés” and patisserie boxes. 


“Woefully inadequate”

Labour has called the parcels “woefully inadequate”. 

“This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown,” said leader Keir Starmer.

The government has already confirmed that it is rushing to set up an online portal through which parents can claim supermarket vouchers to do their own shopping. 

During the last debate about free school meals, Conservative MP for Mansfield, Ben Bradley went as far to claim that food vouchers would be spent by parents in “crack dens” and “brothels”.

Meanwhile, in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has already confirmed that children on free school meals will continue to be supported throughout the pandemic, with Northern Ireland providing support until Easter 2022. 

In response to the pictures that have been posted on social media, a government spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We are aware of the images and clear that the contents of these food parcels are completely unacceptable”.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

Politics Morgan Perry

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