Inadequate lockdown food parcels for English school children evoke outcry
LONDON (UK) – Shared images of meagre food packages provided to children by schools during England’s COVID-19 lockdown evoked an outcry on Tuesday and prompted the government to warn private suppliers to raise their standards.
With England in lockdown to contain a surge in coronavirus cases, the government has asked schools to give away free lunches for eligible children stuck at home.
However, images shared online of some of the food parcels were criticised by politicians, celebrities and the public, who raised questions whether they contained adequate food and nutrition for the number of meals they were supposed to cover.
The outcry began after one Twitter user posted a parcel she said was expected to last 10 days of lunches. It contained: a loaf of bread, two potatoes, two carrots, three apples, a tomato, some dried pasta, bananas, cheese, beans and other small snacks.
Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said, “The photos being shared on social media today are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we expect to be sent to children,”
Children could avail for the programme if they are in their first three years of schooling, approximately aged 4 to 7, or if their parents receive certain state benefits. More than 1.4 million children have qualified for the same.
When the Twitter user, who posted the original photo was contacted. She declined to be named. However, she confirmed the photograph showed everything in the package she had received from the school for one child.
“What they’re going to end up with on a typical day is one round of cheese sandwich with one quite thin slice of cheese in it and no butter on the bread – that is going to be quite hard to eat,” she said.
The pack was supplied by Chartwells, part of the FTSE-listed Compass Group PLC. The central government does not negotiate supply contracts.
The firm said the package in question was only intended to last five days. It expressed apology for the quantity it offered and said it would refund schools in cases where it had failed to meet its standards.
A spokeswoman for Chartwells said in an emailed statement, “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.”
Other users posted images they said showed similar food packages received from schools, which could be coming from a range of suppliers.
“Something is going wrong and we need to fix it, quickly!” said Premier League soccer player Marcus Rashford, who led a publicity campaign last year to pressure the government into extending the provision of meals to include school holiday times, which it later did.