Keir Starmer has described the images of inadequate free school meal packages circulating on social media as a “disgrace” and called on the government to take action to make sure that “families don’t go hungry in the lockdown”.
The Labour leader took to social media this morning to comment on pictures of food packages sent to households for children who qualify for free school meals but are now learning remotely from home during the national lockdown in England.
He 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.”
Also commenting online, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said today: “Into whose pockets is the money for free school meals going? Who is profiteering from our hungry children are being provided with disgracefully inadequate meals?
“The Prime Minister must fix this today. No child should be going hungry and free school meals are not a cash cow.”
One Twitter user had shared a picture of a parcel supposedly comprising £30 worth of food, containing two potatoes, two carrots, three apples, pasta, soreen, three frubes, eight single cheese sandwiches, a tin of baked beans and a loaf of bread.
The parcel had been provided by Chartwell, a private company contracted by the Department for Education, instead of a £30 food voucher. Parents can opt to either receive a package of food or a voucher.
Shadow minister for children and early years Tulip Siddiq slammed the reports emerging online, saying: “Images circulating on social media of woefully inadequate food parcels going to families are a serious concern.
“The Department for Education’s investigation must happen immediately so we know where the money is going. We cannot let children go hungry during this lockdown.
“The government must get on and deliver the national voucher scheme it has committed to restarting to ensure that all children are able to get the food they need.”
The Department for Education has responded to say it is looking into the issue and tweeted: “We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed. Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food.”
“I will be looking into this urgently,” the parliamentary under-secretary of state for children and families Vicky Ford told her Twitter followers shortly afterwards in response to the statement from the department.
She added: “Food parcels should cover all lunchtime meals & be nutritious – we’ve increased funding for parcels & will support local vouchers – national voucher also rolling out ASAP, working night & day on this. Hope your kids are ok.”
But local government minister Simon Clarke characterised the emerging reports on the food packages as “a lot of people seeking to whip a storm up”, and added: “Too much to hope in age of instant outrage to wait for the facts before jumping in”.
Campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford, who pushed the government to provide free school meals to children during the holidays, described one package shared on social media by another recipient as “just not good enough”.
The Premier League footballer helped to force a government U-turn on free school meals in July and launched a fresh campaign against child food poverty later in the year for free school meals to be extended over the autumn and spring holidays.