Priti Patel calls for ‘action’ against food firm Chartwells behind ‘appalling’ free school meals


Priti Patel today called for the £24.8billion-earning company behind the meal parcel that sparked the school dinner scandal to be punished, declaring ‘they should be ashamed of themselves’.

The Home Secretary described the food package from Compass group-owned Chartwells as an ‘appalling display’ that was ‘totally unacceptable’.

A government investigation is currently underway into the meal, which prompted a reintroduction of the more popular vouchers last night.

But even those are feared to have caused further problems – after concerns having to print them out at home to spend could be difficult for families with no equipment.

The issue of pupil’s dinners while schools are shut in lockdown has prompted furious debate among politicians, celebrities and families.

Mrs Patel said: ‘The vouchers scheme is coming back in place on January 18 – quite frankly that scheme is just so, so important.

‘I do think the company that was involved in that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves, quite frankly.

Inside the bag was food separated out

Amy Weldon, 24, told how she had been given her daughter’s food parcel  in a bin bag

The food parcel that caused the scandal contained just £5.22 of food and sparked an apology

The food parcel that caused the scandal contained just £5.22 of food and sparked an apology 

Angry mother Rachel Robley

The food parcel sent out to Ms Robley

Rachel Robley hit out the food she was sent – and an ‘insulting’ letter sent which advised her, among other things, on what she may need to make beans on toast

‘It’s totally unacceptable and it is right that the Government is investigating them. I personally think that some action should be taken against that company,’ she added in an interview with Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield on This Morning.

Parents will be able to claim the food vouchers from next week after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced he would be reintroducing the £15 tokens.

But some require them to be printed at home, causing another headache for poorer families without access to that kind of equipment. 

Footballer Marcus Rashford – who has campaigned for free school meals – said last night: ‘One thing I touched on with the Prime Minister was ways to course correct on the voucher scheme.

‘If families can’t access food consistently likelihood is they do not have access to a printer to print the vouchers at home. They agreed to look into this.’

It came as a mother said she felt ‘insulted’ after her daughter’s free school meal package contained advice on making beans on toast. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today announced he would be reintroducing the £15 vouchers from January 18

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today announced he would be reintroducing the £15 vouchers from January 18

Chartwells to provide breakfast in food parcels 

Catering firm Chartwells has announced it will start including breakfast in free school meal deliveries in response to the fierce criticism of its meagre parcels. 

The under-fire schools food provider has apologised and vowed to raise standards after parents railed against the paltry lunches it was sending their children.   

Boris Johnson branded the boxes of seven-day supplies ‘disgraceful’ and told senior MPs the firm had been ‘hauled over the coals’.

As it attempted to win back confidence with angered families, Chartwells said it would include breakfast at no extra cost from January 25 until schools reopen. 

The breakfast will include bloomer, bagel, butter, yoghurts, juice, milk, oats and fruit.  

Furious Rachel Robley’s was also given guidance on assembling a jacket potato after she received a meagre box of food to feed her six-year-old daughter, Hope. 

They were posted to the thousands of North East children – learning at home due to the latest Covid-19 lockdown – who qualify for free school meals.  

Mr Williamson had told MPs he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ by images shared by angry parents laying bare the meagre contents of their food packages, which in scores of cases lacked the components of a rounded diet and fell short of the £15-per-child value.

Boris Johnson also branded the boxes ‘disgraceful’ and ‘an insult to the families that have received them.’ 

The Prime Minister’s comments came after a phone call with campaigning footballer Rashford, who has championed access to free school meals during the pandemic.  

Speaking before the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, Mr Williamson confirmed the Government the vouchers would be rolled out next week. 

The row is the latest fiasco to beset the Education Secretary, who earlier this month was forced to accept a nationwide school closure at the 11th hour, despite enthusiastically encouraging them to open just hours before. 

It was sparked by one Twitter account belonging to a mother called Sarah – RoadsideMum on Twitter – who originally said a sparse package from suppliers Chartwells was supposed to be worth £30 and last ten days. 

Footballer Marcus Rashford disclosed that the Prime Minister had spoke to him today

Footballer Marcus Rashford disclosed that the Prime Minister had spoke to him today

Katie Newton, from Harrogate, got a food parcel for Rylan Blakey which was not enough

Katie Newton, from Harrogate, got a food parcel for Rylan Blakey which was not enough

Catering company’s high-end lunches for private school pupils are revealed 

One of the companies behind the food parcels also feeds gourmet food to children from richer families via a sister company, it emerged today.

Chartwells Independent, which is linked to Chartwells, provides canapés, pâtisserie food and gingerbread villages to private schools.

The firm shared pictures of its luxury food before the row emerged over paltry supplies for poorer families.

Smoked mackerel, quinoa and kale were provided at St Faith's in Cambridge

Smoked mackerel, quinoa and kale were provided at St Faith’s in Cambridge

A canapes table at Norwich School provided by Chartwells Independent

A canapes table at Norwich School provided by Chartwells Independent

Tandoori roast pollock with Goan curry of prawns and mussels at Chigwell School

Tandoori roast pollock with Goan curry of prawns and mussels at Chigwell School

In an interview this morning, she accepted the groceries had only been intended to last her child seven days, but the firm nevertheless apologised and admitted the parcel was not up to standard. 

The Prime Minister today assured senior MPs that the company – run by £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland whose chairman was until recently a Tory donor – had been ‘hauled over the coals’.

Answering a question from Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon at the Liaison Committee, he said: ‘You are right to be obviously outraged by the images that we have seen.

‘And the companies in question – or certainly one of the most notorious pictures, the company responsible for that, and others – have been hauled over the coals and asked to explain how this has happened.

‘They have apologised and they have reimbursed the schools concerned and pledged not to do it again.

‘I should stress that the images did not reflect the actual Government guidance which is for about double the quantity of food for lunch packs for five days that you have seen, if not more.’ 

Yet this was challenged by Sir Keir Starmer, who at PMQs brandished a list of what was purportedly the Government’s own standards. 

Eyebrows were also raised when it was further revealed that one of the companies behind the food parcels also feeds gourmet food to children from richer families at private schools via a sister company. 

RoadsideMum described her dismay at opening the free school meal package.

She told the BBC: ‘As I unpacked that food parcel in my living room and looked at the contents, it felt very sad and very depressing, and one of my children came in and saw me laying this out on the floor and asked why.

‘I said I was going to picture it because I didn’t think it looked like a lot and I could see the child’s realisation that this is what I’ve been given to eat for a week and just the sense of sadness.

‘Where has the rest of the food gone? You know, this is meant to be a week’s food. Why is it so mean?’

The Prime Minister’s intervention was revealed by Rashford – who has campaigned for free school meals – this morning.

He tweeted: ‘Just had a good conversation with the Prime Minister.

‘He has assured me that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place. 

‘He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.’   

It held two sandwiches, two potatoes, grated cheese, yoghurts, one apple and an orange

It held two sandwiches, two potatoes, grated cheese, yoghurts, one apple and an orange

This food parcel was from Grange Primary School Grimsby and was for two children per week

This food parcel was from Grange Primary School Grimsby and was for two children per week

Two children attending a school in Nottingham were handed this to last them a whole week

Two children attending a school in Nottingham were handed this to last them a whole week

This school pupil's food parcel contained bread that went out of date of the day of its delivery

This school pupil’s food parcel contained bread that went out of date of the day of its delivery

These items were sent out to parents in Medway, Kent, from a school to feed their children

These items were sent out to parents in Medway, Kent, from a school to feed their children

St Francis de Sales Catholic Junior School in Merseyside were giving out these parcels

St Francis de Sales Catholic Junior School in Merseyside were giving out these parcels

This parcel was received by an angry mother who had no idea how to make meals from it

This parcel was received by an angry mother who had no idea how to make meals from it

Tory donor Paul Walsh was previously boss of Compass, which is the parent firm of Chartwells

Tory donor Paul Walsh was previously boss of Compass, which is the parent firm of Chartwells

Lunch company had Tory donor at the helm 

The company behind the lunches are Chartwells, which is the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland.

Until December this year Tory donor Paul Walsh was the chairman of Compass, the millionaire showing on Electoral Commission documents giving the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House documents showed he resigned just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he announced he would.

On December 8, Chartwells announced it had joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by Marcus Rashford MBE.

Chartwells managing director Charlie Brown said at the time: ‘Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.

‘We know how important nutritious food is to educational attainment, and that food provision is a real struggle for some families, so we fully support widening access to free school meals.

‘We’re now going to be working with the taskforce to provide healthy meals during school holidays for those entitled to free school meals. As the first school caterer on board, I believe our insights and our networks in schools will be valuable, to make a real difference to young lives.’  

It came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock bit back at food firms supplying paltry food parcels to pupils today, declaring ‘they clearly need to up their game’.

He left little doubt of his displeasure over embarrassing photographs circulating on social media showing the meals. 

Mr Hancock said: ‘I’m glad they have apologised, they clearly need to up their game

‘I want to see good, high quality food.

He added to GMB: ‘I’m really glad we are able to send food for those who receive free school meals when schools are in and I’m really glad we are able to do that when schools are out.’ 

Meanwhile Katie Barry, a headteacher at St George’s Church of England Community Primary School in Gainsborough, told Newscast: ‘Obviously we’re meant to feed all the children that are still in school – the vulnerable children and the key worker children – so they get a hot lunch as normal.

‘But then we’re obliged to also make sure all the children that are on home learning that are eligible for free school meals have a food parcel.

‘Schools with their own kitchen are strongly advised to offer food hampers rather than exploring the voucher route.

‘I think it may be so we know that the children are getting healthy food because we have to meet the national food standards but also I think there’s an economical reason behind it.

‘Well all we’re given extra is an extra £3.50 a week which was announced yesterday. So obviously the money we normally get for free school meals we have a lot of overheads so it’s £2.30 a meal but I only have about £1 to spend on food because we have obviously all the wages and the electricity and the water and everything.

‘So our food parcels really we only have about £5 a week to spend on food then we got the extra £3.50 yesterday and so it’s significantly less than £15 given out to families in vouchers.

The Manchester United and England footballer (pictured with his mother Melanie at a food bank last year) was responding to an outraged mother who slammed a 10-day hamper

The Manchester United and England footballer (pictured with his mother Melanie at a food bank last year) was responding to an outraged mother who slammed a 10-day hamper

‘It’s not a lot to get five healthy meals for a growing child who’s expected to be doing home learning and they need to be well nourished in order to be able to engage well with their learning.

‘It is quite tight and I can understand how some parents would prefer vouchers because they also have autonomy then because the food parcels we try to accommodate different needs but it’s very difficult to tailor them to personal preferences.’

MailOnline have been handed a further rogues’ gallery of images of appalling boxes sent out to parents from various schools and firms. 

One mother Amy Weldon, 24, told how she had been given her daughter’s food parcel in a bin bag. 

She explained to MailOnline: ‘Every parent in the country needs this to be reverted back to the vouchers as some children will starve.

‘The food companies are profiting massively from this.’

‘It’s outrageous at what they’ve given for my daughter and considering it’s meant to be a pandemic because of a virus they shouldn’t be opening food and touching it to re package it  

‘I’m absolutely disgusted with what I’ve been given today and I know every parent in the country who has been giving this quantity and quality of food would be feeling exactly the same.’

Compass Group UK & Ireland previous had Tory donor Paul Walsh as its chairman.

The millionaire, who now heads racing and lifestyle business the McLaren Group 

Publicly viewable Electoral Commission documents show he gave the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House papers showed he officially resigned from Compass just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he first announced he would step down. 

This Woodside Primary Academy pupil's food parcel was supposed to last them a week

This Woodside Primary Academy pupil’s food parcel was supposed to last them a week

This parcel is supposed to last a child a week but does not appear to contain enough food

This parcel is supposed to last a child a week but does not appear to contain enough food

Some boxes have been praised by parents. St Dunstans School in Glastonbury were given top marks for this five days one, which included sandwiches and wraps from Real Wrap Co

Some boxes have been praised by parents. St Dunstans School in Glastonbury were given top marks for this five days one, which included sandwiches and wraps from Real Wrap Co

Tiny portions of cheese and soup powder were packaged in bank coin bags among vegetables

Tiny portions of cheese and soup powder were packaged in bank coin bags among vegetables

Mum Christa Lee, 39, was shocked at the food package her 17-year-old picked up last week

Mum Christa Lee, 39, was shocked at the food package her 17-year-old picked up last week

Free school meals have existed for more than 100 years 

The origin of free school meals (FSM) stretches back to the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906 when local authorities were granted powers to provide food to the poorest children through local taxes. 

This system remained until the Second World War when in 1941 nutritional standards were drawn up, followed three years later with the 1944 Education Act mandating local authorities to hand out FSM to the poorest pupils.

In 1986, during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Social Security Act required local authorities to outsource the supply to private companies.

In 2013, a new, more rigorous set of foods standards was implemented. 

The government said yesterday it was ‘urgently’ looking into claims the free school meals parcels only contained a few pounds worth of food.

Meanwhile doctors at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health wrote to the government over whether they were nutritious enough for children.

Unlike the first lockdown, schools are given a grant from the government, which they can spend on getting vouchers for pupils or getting a contractor to supply parcels. 

This time the government has urged schools to try and sort out parcels for the pupils in an effort to help ensure they have a balanced diet. 

Until this week suppliers were working on costs of £2.34 a day per student, but on Friday the government increased this by £3.50 a week.

The Department for Education said it will investigate the claims free school meals do not contain enough food.

It posted on Twitter: ‘We are looking into this. We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed. Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food.’

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said: ‘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.’

She added: One of the reasons why some schools have used food parcels rather than vouchers is that it helps keep them in touch with families.

‘Very sadly during the pandemic there has been an increase in risk to some children. Do call @NSPCC if you are concerned about a child.’

How much should the free school meals really be worth? 

Free school meal allowances are usually £2.34 per pupil per day, an additional £3.50 per seven days has been added in lockdown, equalling £15.20 a week.

The Government has told schools to work with their school catering team or provider to make up the food parcels, especially if kitchens are open.

Unlike in the first lockdown, vouchers are considered only after every effort to provide the supply boxes have been exhausted.

The government guidance suggests ‘you can consider other local arrangements, which might include vouchers for local shops and supermarkets’.

School costs of providing the vouchers can then be reimbursed by the government to the amount of £15 per week.

A school catering source told MailOnline: ‘Staff haven’t experienced anything like this before. They are working through a pandemic to make the food boxes for the parents some don’t even collect them.

‘For those in school staff were expecting 120 children from the key worker parents and vulnerable children for free school meals still, 40 turned up.’

Naomi Willis from Skint Dad commented: ‘While it seems that some food parcels have been good quality, there is a distinct lack of consistency, compared to the previous voucher scheme.

‘The food parcels provided to parents in the current lockdown should be able to feed a child for a week, but what we’ve seen shared by Skint Dad community members falls far short of this and is clearly not good enough.

‘This is adding additional pressure to struggling parents and is letting down children who are caught in the middle.

‘The scheme needs to be reviewed immediately to ensure that all children are provided with enough food or reintroduce the previous voucher scheme today.’

Parents said the meals were dished out to children studying from home by a private contractor.

Government guidance for the free school meals scheme says institutions can apply for an extra £3.50 per student on top of whatever they receive. 

It says: ‘We strongly encourage schools to work with their school catering team or food provider to provide food parcels to eligible free school meal pupils who are at home.’ 

It adds: ‘Where school kitchens are open this should be the approach taken by schools.’

Chartwells said this morning: ‘We take our responsibility to provide children with access to nutritious food very seriously.

‘We have worked hard to produce food hampers at incredibly short notice during these challenging times.

‘Our hampers follow the DofE 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.

‘In this instance, the image on Twitter falls short of our hamper specification and we are keen to investigate with the relevant school so we can address any operational issues that may have arisen.’

So where IS all the free school meals cash going? Charity reveals how £88m ‘disappears’ every year as catering firms make profits and headteachers slice off top to pay staff and utility bills

By Dan Sales and Martin Robinson for MailOnline 

A perfect storm of problems besetting the school system saw £88.3million of free meal funding vanish a year – while some is split off to pay staff wages and water bills.

The government provides £2.34 for each eligible pupil per day, which has been increased in the third lockdown by £3.50 a week, or an extra 50p per school day.

But in the past 48 hours the country has been shocked by the quality of the meals offered to pupils, with sparse hampers featuring little more than the bare essentials.

MailOnline can reveal the huge disparity between the funding sent and the final product is down to soft government guidance, business demands, a system designed to reduce the stigma of free meals and a shortage of money in schools.

That system puts an allowance on a smartcard for pupils to buy meals at the school canteen, which was then replaced by the controversial food parcels in lockdown periods. 

Tory MPs are putting huge pressure on Boris Johnson to reform the system, as it was revealed cash meant to feed children is being skimmed off by private companies to boost profits. Headteachers are also using some of the taxpayers’ money to pay wages and energy bills.

Influential Conservative backbencher Steve Baker told MailOnline: ‘I know the Government is fully seized on this issue and working hard for change – furious Conservative MPs are insisting on it’.

This is what is supposed to be in one child's school lunch parcel for a week during lockdown

This is what is supposed to be in one child’s school lunch parcel for a week during lockdown

Keir Starmer circulated showing the Government guidance on what meal packs should have

Keir Starmer circulated showing the Government guidance on what meal packs should have

Breakdown of grant for some schools: Headteacher admits that after 'overheads' like utility bills and staff wages, cash for pupil meals can be as little as £1 per day.

Breakdown of grant for some schools: Headteacher admits that after ‘overheads’ like utility bills and staff wages, cash for pupil meals can be as little as £1 per day.

The government’s rules on the universal infant free school meals grant has detailed term and conditions tied up with red tape for education providers.

But the small print on the funding reveals a loophole many have been able to take advantage of to cover a lack of money elsewhere.

As long as the school fulfills its legal requirement to offer free school meals it can use the remainder for other purposes.

It means if they can feed pupils for £1 a head, it frees up £1.34 for other areas.

The guidance reads: ‘The grant supports schools in delivering the legal requirement to offer free school meals, meeting the school food standards, to all their reception, year 1 and year 2 pupils.

‘Subject to meeting this legal duty, schools may spend the grant for the purposes of the school; that is to say for the educational benefit of pupils registered at that school, or for the benefit of pupils registered at other schools.

Over 90 per cent of schools receive funding for free school meals for some of their pupils

Over 90 per cent of schools receive funding for free school meals for some of their pupils

Baroness Boycott and the Feeding Britain charity say £88million a year vanishes from funding

Baroness Boycott and the Feeding Britain charity say £88million a year vanishes from funding

How much should the free school meals really be worth? 

Free school meal allowances are usually £2.34 per pupil per day, an additional £3.50 per seven days has been added in lockdown, equalling £15.20 a week.

The Government has told schools to work with their school catering team or provider to make up the food parcels, especially if kitchens are open.

Unlike in the first lockdown, vouchers are considered only after every effort to provide the supply boxes have been exhausted.

The government guidance suggests ‘you can consider other local arrangements, which might include vouchers for local shops and supermarkets’.

School costs of providing the vouchers can then be reimbursed by the government to the amount of £15 per week.

A school catering source told MailOnline: ‘Staff haven’t experienced anything like this before. They are working through a pandemic to make the food boxes for the parents some don’t even collect them.

‘For those in school staff were expecting 120 children from the key worker parents and vulnerable children for free school meals still, 40 turned up.’

‘They may also spend it on community facilities, for example services whose provision furthers any charitable purpose for the benefit of pupils at the school or their families, or people who live or work in the school’s locality. Schools do not have to spend the entire grant in the financial year beginning 1 April 2020; they may carry forward some or all the grant.’

The use of the funding in this way has been confirmed by some schools already in the UK.  

Katie Barry, a headteacher at St George’s Church of England Community Primary School in Gainsborough, told Newscast: ‘Obviously we’re meant to feed all the children that are still in school – the vulnerable children and the key worker children – so they get a hot lunch as normal.

‘But then we’re obliged to also make sure all the children that are on home learning that are eligible for free school meals have a food parcel.

‘Schools with their own kitchen are strongly advised to offer food hampers rather than exploring the voucher route.

‘I think it may be so we know that the children are getting healthy food because we have to meet the national food standards but also I think there’s an economical reason behind it.

‘Well all we’re given extra is an extra £3.50 a week, which was announced yesterday. So obviously the money we normally get for free school meals we have a lot of overheads so it’s £2.30 a meal but I only have about £1 to spend on food because we have obviously all the wages and the electricity and the water and everything.

‘So our food parcels, really we only have about £5 a week to spend on food then we got the extra £3.50 yesterday and so it’s significantly less than £15 given out to families in vouchers.

‘It’s not a lot to get five healthy meals for a growing child who’s expected to be doing home learning and they need to be well nourished in order to be able to engage well with their learning.’

This food parcel is supposed to feed a child for a week every school day for lunchtime

This food parcel is supposed to feed a child for a week every school day for lunchtime

This sparse selection was given to a child going to a primary school in Bingley, West Yorks

This sparse selection was given to a child going to a primary school in Bingley, West Yorks

Food supply businesses also have to survive by making some profit on the services they provide.

It means using one of the hundreds of possible suppliers eats away at the already small amount offered to children. 

But the largest black hole in free meal funding is bizarrely caused by a system designed to make taking the no-cost dishes less embarrassing for older children.

In secondary schools smart cards were introduced to all pupils to load up with money, or in the case of students getting free meals, have the amount credited each day. They use it to buy lunch at the school and has been running for the past ten years.

However a quirk in the system means if the amount is not used, or completely spent, the daily allowance is wiped and not carried over to the next day.

In lockdown times these free amounts have been replaced by the parcels. 

It was exposed by the Feeding Britain network and Professor Greta Defeyte in a report last year.

It said it found £88 million was disappearing from free school meal cards.

The report said neither the Department for Education nor the National Audit Office were able to track down where that money went.

Baroness Boycott, chair of the Feeding Britain charity, said: ‘Schools overall are doing an amazing job and have stepped up fantastically.

‘I think most contractors as well have done a very good job. You have to remember that for the contractors on the whole because we only have one day of school and they were expecting a whole term, many of them had indeed delivered all their food, which would have been things like carrots and pasta.

‘They’ve done it before, so for them they’ve faced a lot of problems because of this but clearly this is the really bad situation.

‘I think the government has not on the whole done too badly but I do think there are a lot of problems going down the pipe, so to speak.

At Feeding Britain we did a big investigation into what happened to the money. 

‘We found that actually £88million a year was disappearing as a combination of money that didn’t get rolled over.

Also the awful truth is that food is always seen as the bit of the sandwich that you can squeeze in this time of incredible cuts to councils, cuts to schools’ budgets, bits of the food budget were being taken off.’ 

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford MP said the government was dedicated to making sure pupils had good school meals.

She said: ‘Government will be demanding that caterers urgently improve the quality of lunches they provide to eligible children – this will make sure every one of them receives a healthy, nutritious lunch that will give them the fuel they need to focus on learning at home.

‘The photos being shared on social media last night and today are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we expect to be sent to children.’ 

How many children get them? What should they include? Who compiled the parcels? Free school meals explained 

Have children been receiving school meals during the pandemic?

Yes. The Government said schools in England should provide meal options for all eligible pupils, including vulnerable children and the children of key workers, regardless of whether they are being educated in the classroom or at home.

Meals should be available free of charge to all infant pupils and those who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria.

It said schools may consider working with their school catering team or an external food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels to eligible pupils who are at home.

Around 1.3million children in England are eligible for free school meals.

What has Marcus Rashford got to do with it?

The England star became known for food poverty campaigning during the pandemic, forcing a Government U-turn on offering free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays.

The 23-year-old has drawn widespread praise for highlighting the issue, with his campaigning also resulting in the Government back-tracking to announce free meals would be provided to disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays too.

He described the food offerings shown in pictures that emerged this week as ‘just not good enough’ and called for the system to be fixed ‘quickly’.

What did the pictures of food on social media show?

An image posted on Twitter by a mother called Sarah showed the food she had received all laid out, and she wrote: ‘2 days jacket potato with beans, 8 single cheese sandwiches, 2 days carrots, 3 days apples, 2 days soreen, 3 days frubes. Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.

‘Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest.’ 

Who put the parcel together and have they explained their efforts?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it has been made clear to Chartwells, the company that provided the pictured parcel, as well as the entire education food sector, that such behaviour ‘will not be tolerated’.

Chartwells said the picture shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was £10.50 and not the £30 suggested by Sarah.

The company said they are very sorry that the quantity has ‘fallen short in this instance’, later adding that they will be adding breakfast into their parcels from January 25, which will be free to schools for all children eligible for meals.

Rashford, who said he had reached out to Chartwells, tweeted that they had clarified that they were not the exclusive supplier of free school meals across the UK.

What is a food parcel expected to contain?

The Government website provides a link to a webpage which sets out some general principles for putting together a food parcel.

It includes a list of food items billed as an example parcel for one child for five days.

The list includes: one loaf of bread or pack of rolls/10-inch wraps, two baking potatoes, one cucumber, three large tomatoes or one pack of cherry tomatoes, one standard tin of sweetcorn in water, five portions of fresh fruit (eg apples, satsumas, bananas) or three portions of fresh fruit and one tin fruit in juice (eg pears, peaches, fruit cocktail), two items from the following: one pack of sliced cooked meat (eg chicken, ham or vegetarian alternative) or one tin of meat or one tin of tuna in water or six eggs, 200g block of cheese or three cheese portions, one tin baked beans, one 500g pot plain low-fat yoghurt or three individual serving yoghurt pots, one litre / two pints semi-skimmed milk.

Can families receive vouchers instead?

Yes, soon. Mr Williamson said the national voucher scheme for free school meals will relaunch next week, after education leaders, campaigners and MPs called on the Government to roll out the programme urgently.

People will receive an email from supplier Edenred by January 14, advising on how to either reset their password or activate their account for the first time.

They will then receive an email confirming when they can order vouchers during the week commencing January 18.

Once families have received their voucher, they will be able to redeem them in store by either presenting a paper copy or showing it on a smartphone.

What about pupils in other parts of the UK?

The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own provisions for school lunch funding.

In Scotland, local authorities and schools use different approaches depending on their individual circumstances and in response to local needs, including cash payments to families of eligible children; supermarket vouchers; home deliveries or through attendance at school.

In Wales, councils are able to make a payment to cover the provision of school meals where needed.

In Northern Ireland, a payment will be made on Friday January 15 to the parents and guardians of all children, including vulnerable children and children of key workers, who are entitled to free schools meals for the period of January 4 to January 22.

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