Free school meal scandal: Why the government is failing to feed people during the pandemic

With permission from @RoadsideMum/Twitter

A private caterer has admitted “falling short” as photos circulate on social media of woeful meal provision for poorer pupils.

Two potatoes, one tin of baked beans, eight single cheese slices, two carrots, three apples, one tomato, two bananas, one small bag of penne, one tomato, three Frubes, two Soreens and a loaf of sliced bread.

This meagre spread was deemed enough to feed one schoolchild for ten days, according to a Twitter user called @RoadsideMum, who tweeted a photo of the food laid out on 12 January:

#FreeSchoolMeals bag for 10 days:

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.

— Roadside Mum (@RoadsideMum) January 11, 2021

She added up the cost of the goods and worked out that she could have bought them for £5.22 from Asda. But instead, her child received this “hamper” from a private catering company called Chartwells – one of many firms contracted to supply free school meals to eligible pupils at home while their schools are closed during lockdown.

Not all food packages being sent to children on free school meals are poor value or nutritionally inadequate. Schools, academy trusts and some local authorities choose their own school meal suppliers, and some catering services are in-house – so the quality is variable and it is difficult to quantify how many have fallen below acceptable standards.

Yet families receiving disappointing packages – many photos of which are circulating over social media – could be feeding their children more and better if they had access to the £15 per school week supermarket vouchers they have received over some school holidays during the pandemic so far.

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With the latest school closures, however, feeding children outside of school has shifted away from the voucher scheme towards food parcels. “The voucher scheme will only be available to parents when it is not possible to provide food parcels,” states the school catering professional body LACA, which has been involved alongside the Department for Education and Public Health England in drawing up guidance for food parcels.

Families will be eligible for such vouchers while schools are closed “shortly”, according to a Daily Mirror report, but the Department for Education has not said when. Stephen Forster, who laid out the above guidance, is the national chair of LACA – which lobbies the government – as well as a director at Chartwells: the contractor being accused of profiteering from the food boxes.

Although it is difficult to tell how much profit all outsourced school caterers are making from the lockdown, we do know the particular hamper that embarrassed Chartwells was priced at £23.40. If we assume picking, packing and delivery costs are the same as at Asda (£3 charge if the order is worth less than £40), then Chartwells made a £15.18 profit on that particular box.

We also know in general that …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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