July 26, 2021

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Schools can give out food vouchers instead of hampers from next week

3 min read

Schools will be able to ditch free school meal hampers and replace them with vouchers from Monday, Education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

The news comes after pictures were shared on social media of hampers packed with beans and potatoes – which should have been a £30 supply of food to help feed a family for days.

The picture, which some estimated showed just a few pounds-worth of food – prompted outrage from many and a formal investigation, with food suppliers apologising.

Schools will have the option to continue using local services but Mr Williamson confirmed to the Education Committee in the Commons that £15 voucher scheme would return next week.

It will give parents £15 vouchers which will be used in supermarkets to buy a week’s worth of food for their child.

The scheme – run by company Edenred – was not without its critics, with many schools reporting that they struggled to distribute the vouchers, reports The Mirror.

It came a Mr Williamson said that companies that supply poor free school meal parcels will be named and shamed, the Education Secretary has said.

Mr Williamson told the committee of MPs he was “absolutely disgusted” after seeing a picture of a meagre food parcel delivered to a disabled mother of two.

The picture posted on Twitter was among other photos on social media showing poor-quality and low-value parcels sent to families during lockdown.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free school meals to children who need them – has called for the system to be fixed “quickly”.

Mr Williamson told the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday: “As a dad myself, I thought ‘how could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required?’ It’s just not acceptable.”

Mr Williamson said it had 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”.

“We will not live with that,” he added.

“There are clear standards that are set there that they need to deliver against and if they do not deliver against them, action will have to be taken.”

He said the Government would “name and shame” companies not delivering against standards.

The mother who shared the viral image of the meagre free school meal food parcel described how depressing it felt to look at its contents, estimated to contain just over £5 of food.

Sarah, who does not want to be identified to protect her two children, is disabled and relies on free school meals.

She told BBC Breakfast: “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?”

Sarah posted the image on Twitter under the name Roadside Mum, and said: “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.”

Children and families minister Vicky Ford said she met the managing director of Chartwells on Tuesday “and he has assured me they have taken immediate action to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels. They will ensure schools affected are compensated and they will provide additional food to the eligible child in line with our increased funding”.

A spokesperson for Chartwells said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. 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.”

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