I am appalled by the Government’s provision of free school meals parcels, which have been exposed on Twitter in recent days.
It took interventions from Marcus Rashford and pressure from the Labour leadership to force the Government into two embarrassing U-turns, and despite this they continue to fall further, as social media erupted in rage last night at various images of free school meal parcels.
For around 1.4 million children in the United Kingdom, the school-time free meal provides one of the only opportunities to eat a balanced meal. Yet this Government has demonstrated the callousness at the heart of its decision making – taking even this away from them in the midst of a pandemic.
Some images on social media show vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes chopped into half portions, and others show nuts in plastic bags used for coins. There was barely enough food for a day, never mind a week, which is as long as the parcels were intended to last.
This was not an isolated incident either. Many other parents and food activists posted their parcels, which showed similar compositions. This is abhorrent on various levels.
Labour published today the Government’s guidance on the free school meals parcels, which has been outsourced to businesses such as Chartwells and Compass Group. This guidance, when compared with the widely shared images of social media, shows a difference of 47p of food per day.
This suggests that Government directly instructed these companies to provide the meagre food parcels, rather than it being honest mistake on behalf of these businesses. I cannot countenance this.
When you contrast this with the food parcels provided by the Labour-led Welsh Government or the Scandinavian nations it pales in comparison, and the Government has to do more, and it can do more. As the sixth richest country in the world, it should not even be a question as to whether we can feed our children substantial meals.
Labour has called for the national voucher scheme to restart, which allows parents to cater to their children’s needs. This will go a great deal of the way to fixing the issue, rather than paying private companies to needlessly provide the parcels.
Additionally, Labour has requested that the Government outlines how the money provided for free school meals is being spent and demonstrates that it is not being wasted or lost as a result of outsourcing.
I implore the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to fix this crisis which is plaguing our children and young people, and reiterate the calls of the Labour leadership in doing so.