Marcus Rashford has warned that “something is going wrong” with free school meal delivery during lockdown after he held talks with the school catering company at the centre of a row over inadequate free school meal (FSM) parcels.
The Manchester United footballer earlier condemned some of the free school meal packages being sent to children and families learning from home as “unacceptable” after parents posted photos on Twitter.
However, it later emerged that Chartwells, which was identified on social media as the supplier of one meagre food parcel, is a member of the footballer’s child food poverty taskforce.
Chartwells was also summoned to talks with the Department for Education after photos of food parcels went viral on social media. The company later apologised for the quantity of food shown in the image and announced it would be refunding the costs of any below-standard parcels.
Following his discussions with Chartwells, the England international raised concerns about the amount of food being made available to the most vulnerable children, and called for independent businesses to mobilise to help distribute parcels.
“FSM Hampers are currently distributed to provide 10 lunch meals per child across 2 week,” the footballer posted. “This concerns me firstly as I relied on breakfast club, FSM and after-school clubs. Is 1 meal a day from Mon-Fri sufficient for children most vulnerable?”
He also condemned the lack of communication with suppliers ahead of the third national lockdown: “We MUST do better. Children shouldn’t be going hungry on the basis that we aren’t communicating or being transparent with plans. That is unacceptable.”
He concluded by tweeting: “I have a game today so have to log off but I wanted to update you on the conversation and I look forward to hearing the outcome of the DfE meeting today. @Chartwells_UK @educationgovuk.
“Something is going wrong and we need to fix it, quickly!”
Last month Chartwells, which is part of the giant Compass UK group, tweeted: “We are proud to be the first school caterer to join Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by @MarcusRashford”. Its managing director, Charlie Brown, added: “Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.”
Food parcels have been sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals and are now learning remotely during the national lockdown.
One tweet showed a package, supposedly containing the equivalent of £30 worth of food to last for 10 days, comprising just a loaf of bread, some cheese, a tin of beans, two carrots, two bananas, three apples, two potatoes, a bag of pasta, three Frubes, two Soreen bars and a tomato.
Chartwells claimed the photograph showed five days of free lunches, not 10, and the charge for food, packing and distribution was £10.50 not £30, but added: “We are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance … Our 10-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.”
In response to another post, Rashford tweeted: “3 days of food for 1 family … Just not good enough”. In a later tweet, the Manchester United striker and anti-poverty campaigner added: “Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home. Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them who probably haven’t eaten at all so their children can … We MUST do better. This is 2021.”
In response, the Department for Education tweeted: “We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed.”
The children’s minister, Vicky Ford, said on Tuesday evening: “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.
“Chartwells has rightly apologised and admitted the parcel in question was not good enough. I met their managing director earlier today 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.”
Keir Starmer described the situation as “a disgrace”. The Labour leader tweeted: “The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace. Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”
Rashford forced the government into a U-turn in June over the provision of free school meals for children during the summer holidays. It followed a relentless social media campaign, which earned him an MBE last year.
He forced the government’s hand on child hunger once again in the autumn on expanding the free school meals programme through subsequent school holidays. The package included a £170m Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families in England and an extension of the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks this year.
The government guidelines urge schools to work with their catering teams or food provider to provide parcels to eligible pupils who are learning from home.
The guidelines state that the packages should contain food items as opposed to pre-prepared meals so parents can make healthy lunches for their children. It adds that the hampers should not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home and should cater for pupils of all diets.