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Johnson condemns ‘disgraceful’ free school meal offerings sent to families

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A food parcel (Roadside Mum/Twitter/PA)

Boris Johnson has condemned some of the free school meal offerings being sent to families as “disgraceful” after images of poor-quality food parcels were widely shared on social media.

The Prime Minister said photos of meals delivered to parents during the latest lockdown were “appalling” and an “insult” to the families who had received them.

His comments came after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford said he had spoken to the PM about the issues with parcels and he was told that “a full review of the supply chain” was under way.

Mr Johnson said the companies which supplied the much-criticised free school meal offerings to families had been “hauled over the coals” and had been asked to explain how the events took place.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said companies which supply poor food parcels will be named and shamed if they fail to deliver against food standards – and he has urged schools to cancel contracts “where necessary”.

Mr Williamson and Children’s Minister Vicky Ford met several food caterers and suppliers on Wednesday to discuss free school meals provision.

Food provider Chartwells has now announced it will add breakfast into its parcels for children eligible for free school meals after it acknowledged there were local issues following school closures.

Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Williamson said he was “absolutely disgusted” after seeing a picture of a meagre food parcel delivered to a disabled mother-of-two.

The Education Secretary has called on parents to raise any concerns about food parcels with their school first, and then through the Department for Education (DfE) helpline if the issue is not resolved.

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.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister if he would be happy for his children to be living on such meals, to which Mr Johnson told the Commons: “I don’t think anybody in this House is happy with the disgraceful images that we’ve seen of the food parcels that have been offered.

“They’re appalling, they’re an insult to the families that have received them.”

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.”

Mr Williamson told MPs 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.

On alternatives to parcels, Mr Williamson said: “All schools still have the option of doing locally procured vouchers if that is the route they want to do, but the national scheme will be available from next week.”

Tulip Siddiq, shadow children and early years minister, said: “The Government’s response has yet again been far too slow, with national food vouchers only becoming available from next week – two weeks after schools moved to remote learning. Children are going hungry now – this cannot wait.”

On Wednesday morning, Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free school meals to children who need them – said he had a “good” conversation with Mr Johnson about the poor quality food parcels.

The England striker tweeted: “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.”

Mr Johnson said he “totally” agreed with Rashford on the food hampers being sent out to school children, adding that the parcels do not meet the food standards set out by the Government.

School food contracts are put in place by schools, academy trusts and local authorities with a range of catering companies, the DfE has said.

“We have also urged schools, academy trusts and councils to take robust action, including cancelling a contract where necessary,” Mr Williamson added.

Charlie Brown, managing director of Chartwells UK, said: “We acknowledge that when schools were closed it caused some local issues as we switched from meals to parcels. We have been listening to parents and working out how we can best use our resources to do more to help.”

He added: “From January 25, we will be adding breakfast into the parcels which will be free of charge to schools for all children eligible for free school meals and we will continue this provision while schools are closed.

“We hope this will further support children with their learning through the day.”

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