BBC News

Rashford: Free school meals firm apologises over small parcel

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Published
image copyrightPA Media
image captionMarcus Rashford helps out at a food bank

The company at the centre of an outcry over the size of food parcels going to the poorest pupils while schools are in lockdown in England has apologised.

Marcus Rashford sought a meeting with the firm, Chartwells, after seeing a photo of the measly parcel on Twitter.

The post, by someone calling herself Roadside Mum, was picked up by news outlets which then quizzed Downing Street officials about it.

Some hours later the firm agreed the parcel had fallen short on quantity.

Food parcels are currently being sent to school children in England who would normally get free school meals.

The mother, who posted the photo of two carrots, two potatoes and a tin of baked beans and a small range of other food items, said she calculated the cost to be only about ??5.

'Very sorry'

It was retweeted 15,000 times on Twitter and received 36,000 likes.

The mother, who does not want to be identified, had thought it was supposed to last 10 school days and should have been worth ??30.

Chartwells said it was actually only intended to last one school week, but acknowledged it was insufficient.

image copyrightRoadside Mum
image caption"Public funds were charged ??30. I'd have bought this for ??5.22," said Twitter user Roadside Mum of the parcel she received

It said in a statement: "For clarity, this shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 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."

It added that its "10-day hampers" typically included a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.

Marcus Rashford had shared images of what appeared to be food parcels, saying they were "not good enough", that children should not go hungry and that "we must do better" - and he asked for a meeting with Chartwells.

This prompted Downing Street to say it was "completely unacceptable", and that the parcels should be healthy and sufficient for the task.

Children's minister Vicky Ford then began an investigation.

A spokesman for Chartwells, which is owned by Compass group, said the firm would further enhance its food parcels following the Department for Education's additional allowance of ??3.50 per week per child, in line with nutritional guidelines.

The DfE, which has clear guidelines for parcels, will shortly be opening a similar voucher scheme to the one operational during the first school lockdown.

During the lockdown, schools have been told to continue providing free meals for those who are learning at home and have currently been urged to use their usual caterers to offer food parcels.

If schools cannot provide parcels, they can consider other arrangements which might include vouchers for local shops and supermarkets.

'Degrading'

The post prompted others to complain about the quality and quantity of the food in the parcels.

Mother-of-three Kerry Wilks, from Redcar in north-east England, received a package at her youngest child's school containing a loaf of bread, three yoghurts, a tin of beans, tuna, two potatoes, four pieces of fruit and two slices of cheese.

"Even the teaching staff were quite embarrassed by giving them out," Ms Wilks, 38, said.

"I think what's really bugged me about it is the fact that there's two pieces of square cheese wrapped in cling film - I just find it so degrading."

Elaine Stacey, 41, from Reading, said she received a loaf of bread, weighed-out pasta in a sandwich bag, three jelly pots and a jar of Dolmio sauce to feed her 17-year-old son for a week.

The parcel fell so short of what he needed that she said she was having to give up food herself so he would have enough.

Chef Wayne Sullivan, who lives in the Cotswolds and has three school-age children, criticised school food more generally, saying he has been collecting packed lunches from his two boys' school daily and was "horrified" by the contents.

Mr Sullivan, a former MasterChef contestant, told the BBC: "There's probably about 55p worth of food. It's not been prepared with any care or attention, and nutritionally it's not balanced."

image copyrightWayne Sullivam
image captionWayne Sullivan said he was "horrified" by the contents of his boys' packed lunches

Jack Monroe, food campaigner and chef, said the government should reinstate the voucher system "that gave people dignity" and allowed people to make choices about what they could feed themselves and their children "in these difficult times".

Meanwhile, some head teachers have been going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their pupils can eat.

Zane Powles, assistant head teacher at Western Primary School in Grimsby, said the night after the school lockdown was announced he went to the supermarket to get "all our packed lunches for the next two days".

What he bought was "much better" and cheaper than what he gets from the company he uses, he said.

media captionJack Monroe: Free school meals "replaced with a poverty picnic"

A spokesman for Laca, the professional body for catering managers in schools, said it was "disappointed" to see the pictures of food parcels, adding they did not meet the standards.

After his meeting with Chartwells, Rashford said: "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."

'Woefully inadequate'

Reacting to the initial images, Sir Keir Starmer tweeted that the food appeared to be "woefully inadequate" and said it needed "sorting immediately".

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, criticised the food parcels posted online and called on companies to provide "real food and real amounts that will really help families".

"Children need nutritious food for their lunch that helps them learn and keeps them warm in winter. Some lunch boxes I've seen are great but they all should be and there are too many examples of very poor ones on view today that are paltry, cheap and demeaning," she said.

Children's minister Vicky Ford said: "Food parcels should cover all lunchtime meals and be nutritious.

"We've increased funding for parcels and will support local vouchers - national voucher also rolling out ASAP, working night and day on this."

The DfE says it will open a national scheme to provide supermarket vouchers via an online portal "as soon as possible".

What does guidance on food parcels say?

  • parcels should contain food items rather than pre-prepared meals due to food safety considerations
  • minimise the fridge and freezer space that schools and families will need to store foods
  • contain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches for their child/children across the week
  • not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home to prepare meals
  • not contain items restricted under the school food standards
  • cater for pupils who require special diets, for example, allergies, vegetarians or religious diets - schools should ensure there are systems in place to avoid cross-contamination
  • contain appropriate packaging sizes for household use, rather than wholesale sizes

Rashford has been a high-profile campaigner for children on free school meals and brought about several U-turns on the provision of food during the school holidays.

media captionRashford???s mum says she worked three jobs, but still couldn't afford to feed herself sometimes

In Wales, free school meals during the holidays has been extended by a year, and the Northern Ireland Executive made a pledge in November to provide free school meals in holidays until Easter 2022.

In Scotland - where holiday provision is currently promised up to Easter 2021 - both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to fund free school meals for all primary school pupils during term-time and holidays if they win the 2021 Scottish election.

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