Boris vows to crackdown on free school meal firms

Boris vows to crackdown on free school meal firms after meeting with Marcus Rashford – as teachers admit to spending as little as £1 per meal rather than government set amount of £2.30 due to ‘overheads’ like staff wages

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the footballer the meals were ‘unacceptable’ 
  • The Health Secretary blasted the meals and said providers had to ‘up their game’
  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was ‘absolutely disgusted’
  • Roadside Mum, whose picture sparked the scandal, spoke out for first time
  • Furious parents also exposed new shameful meal pictures today 
  • Have you got a free school meals parcel? Email: [email protected] 

Boris Johnson told footballer Marcus Rashford this morning paltry school meal hampers were ‘unacceptable’ – as one teacher admtted spending as little as £1 per meal rather due to ‘overheads’.

The Prime Minister spoke to the Manchester United footballer following 48 hours of appalling images of sorry-looking groceries went around the internet. It came as it was announced vouchers would be returning.

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

The firm – run by £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland who chairman was until recently a Tory donor – apologised last night, admitting it was not up to standard, but said it was for just one school week.

And this morning in an interview the mother accepted it had been intended for only seven days. 

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

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

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

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

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This school pupil’s food parcel contained bread that went out of date of the day of its delivery

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.’  

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 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’.

The Secretary of State for Health, 42, 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.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson echoed the anger, telling the Education Select Committee this morning he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ when he saw the pictures. 

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

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

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

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

He said: ‘How could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required. It is just not acceptable.’ 

He said such offerings ‘will not be tolerated’.

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.

‘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.  

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

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

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

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

Footballer’s food goals 

Footballer Rashford has been at the forefront of the free school meals campaign since the pandemic started.

During the first lockdown pupils at the closed facilities got free vouchers but this was originally cancelled for what would have been the summer holidays.

Rashford campaigned for them to be continued and successfully convinced the government to change its mind.

He wanted the authorities to continue it until Easter this year but this was turned down.

But the Government then said it would provide £170million for food over the Christmas holidays.

Boris Johnson phoned the footballer directly to tell him the news in November.

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.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free meals to children who need them – led responses to images of the dinners which emerged showing a huge gulf in quality and amount of food.   

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. 

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.’

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.’

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.’

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