Out Of Date Food And Halved Vegetables: The Free School Meals Insult

Kiah Tooke

The government have yet again been required to U-turn policies on free school meal provisions following the inadequate food parcels distributed across England earlier this month.

Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemning the parcels as ‘disgraceful’, Sir Keir Starmer highlighted that the guidance issued by the Department of Education detailing what the meals should contain is shamefully similar to what recipients of free school meals received on Monday. During PMQ on the 13th January, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confronted the Prime Minister over the appalling quality of the food parcels, asking if he would be happy with his children living on such little food.

Parents felt it was an insult to be expected to make five meals out of such a meagre parcel

After images circulated social media illustrating the scarce parcels received on the 11th January, the government deservedly faced backlash, backed again by Marcus Rashford who helped bring the issue to the attention of the Prime Minister. The contents of some lunch parcels contained vegetables halved and out of date food which some parents felt was an insult to be expected to make five meals out of such a meagre parcel for their children.

Recipients of free school meals are allocated £15 for each child per week to pay for lunches whilst the schools are closed. However, food parcels given out appeared to have cost much less than this, estimated to have cost around £5 for two children.

The company responsible for the parcels and contracted by the government, Chartwells, has since apologised for the standards of their parcels, claiming that ‘the quality and quantity of the produce in the images on Twitter fell short of our usual standards’ and they allegedly are now committed to making no profit from the provision of the food parcels.

Following this, new guidance was issued by the government which removes all encouragement of schools to issue food parcels, instead insisting schools have the freedom to decide on the most appropriate way pupils should receive help. In addition to this, the national free school meals voucher scheme was announced to be relaunched on the 18th of January, with parents being reimbursed the first few weeks of term.

Rashford, alongside celebrity chefs and others campaigning to end child poverty, issued a letter to the government

Building upon the relaunch of the voucher scheme, Marcus Rashford spoke to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to correct issues with the national scheme, maintaining that families unable to access food would be unlikely to have access to a printer at home. Rashford, alongside celebrity chefs and others campaigning to end child poverty, issued a letter to the government appealing for a ‘urgent comprehensive review of Free School Meal policy’. This covered areas such as re-evaluating which pupils are eligible for free school meals and how the government can further help low-income families in the aftermath of the pandemic.

This marks the third U-turn by the government orchestrated largely by Rashford; this may reach a fourth as the government are yet to confirm how support will be given to pupils over the February half term, with schools having been told not to provide free school meals over the break period. In stark comparison to the English government, Northern Ireland has extended provisions for free school meals during the holidays until at least Easter 2022.

Kiah Tooke

Featured image courtesy of Mak Flex on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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