Marcus Rashford enlists Jamie Oliver and Emma Thompson in demanding No10 ‘urgently reviews’ free school meals policy to find ‘long term fix’ – as scandal-hit catering firm unveils its NEW lunch boxes for poor children
- Rashford and celebrities wrote to Boris Johnson to urge review of meal system
- Comes after a week of scandal surrounding the packages and meals
- Firm shamed over a particularly sparse revealed how they should look
The school meals scandal took a further twist today as footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford called for an urgent review of the government’s policy.
Man United star Rashford said in an open letter to No 10 signed by 40 NGOs, charities, education bodies and celebrity chefs, the system needed looking at again.
It came after an incident-filled week that saw one school meals provider’s fare branded ‘appalling’ after one of its hampers went viral.
In the letter to the Prime Minister, Rashford welcomed the ‘robustness’ of his response to the ‘inadequate’ meal parcels being provided by some private companies.
But the letter said that after a series of problems – including over vouchers and the holiday provision of meals – had arisen during the pandemic, it was the right time to ‘step back and review the policy in more depth’.
The note added: ‘It is only by working together that we will end child food poverty.’
It was signed by Rashford as well as actress Emma Thompson and chefs Tom Kerridge, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Footballer Marcus Rashford and his mother at FareShare Greater Manchester in October
The letter signed by Rashford and others called for a review of the school meals system
Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: ‘Government was explicit that CWGS was not intended to replicate or replace free school meals, but was to enable councils to support low income households, particularly those at risk of food poverty as we moved towards economic recovery.
‘Government should provide food vouchers to eligible families during February half-term as it did last summer, with councils using CWGS funding to provide additional support with partners where necessary.’
A Government spokeswoman said: ‘As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half-term via councils through the £170 million CWGS launched last year.
This is the food box contents that sparked the whole school meal scandal earlier this week
Food firm Chartwells released this today of how its five-day school meals hamper should look
This Woodside Primary Academy pupil’s food parcel was supposed to last them a week
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
Meal scheme will switch for half-term
The free meal system for school pupils will change over the February half term – as the government tries to balance its books by using a different department’s funding for the food.
In a switchover that has the potential to spark some administration issues, meals for those that need it will continue, but paid for from a different area.
Currently the Department for Education are in charge of providing cash for school meals during the coronavirus outbreak in term-times.
But when half term arrives something called the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, which comes from the DWP, will supply the money. It has £170m of funds.
It goes to councils who pay it forward to a number of different schemes to help families in need of assistance.
That includes extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools closed during lockdown.
This Covid Winter Grant was in place over Christmas and can see food parcels and vouchers go to those who need it.
‘Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time.
‘Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.’
Yesterday the government was criticised over plans for children to get their free supplies from a different scheme.
Currently money paying for parcels and lunches comes from a Department for Education initiative.
But new guidance on the free lockdown packages has said they will stop in the February half term and families will need to use the DWP-administered Covid Winter Grant Scheme through their local council.
It has sparked fears from Unions that the process could be mired in red tape and run the risk of children going hungry.
Meals campaigner Marcus Rashford had however praised the initiative when it was announced last year.
After the £170m grant was revealed in November he had said ‘I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK’.
The new criticism is understood to have stunned ministers and No 10.
Government heads and Downing Street have insisted the scheme will crossover with the current package to ensure no-one misses out.
Union bosses slammed the project today, fearing it would leave children hungry.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said of the planned change to the provision of the meals: ‘This is an unnecessary logistical nightmare.
What should be in a food hamper for school meals lasting a child for one week
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.’
‘The Government has, once again, revealed its total disregard for those hardest hit by the ongoing health pandemic.
‘After a year in which the stark inequalities faced by millions of children and young people has been at the forefront of the minds of the public, the ugly spectre of holiday hunger is now looming yet again.’
It came as Priti Patel yesterday 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.
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 pupils’ lunches 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.
‘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.
In response to the new letter, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “It is great that celebrities and groups across society see the importance of school food. The PM thanks Marcus Rashford for his letter and will reply soon.
“School food is essential in supporting the health and learning of the most disadvantaged pupils. The prime minister has been clear that no child will ever go hungry as a result of the pandemic”.
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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