Catering company challenges mother over ‘£5.22’ free school meals box

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.’

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The company behind a sparse school meals package which sparked a Downing Street investigation tonight turned on the mother who exposed the parcel – saying she was wrong about how long it should last.

Chartwells, the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland, had been savaged for 24 hours after an image from a Twitter user showed the paltry supplies. 

Free school meal allowances are worth £15.20 a pupil per week, but the mother yesterday showed her child’s hamper, declaring it was for ten days.

But tonight Chartwells, whose managing director is called Charlie Brown, said while the package was not up to scratch she was still wrong.

The company said it would be refunding the cost of sub-standard food parcels and is contacting every school where shortages have occurred.  

It insisted: ‘We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not ten days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.

‘However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.

‘Our ten-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.

‘We are further enhancing our food parcels following the Department for Education’s additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child in line with nutritional guidelines, in addition we welcome the DofE procurement notice for schools issued today.

‘We would like to thank Marcus Rashford and the Permanent Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Vicky Ford, for their collaboration as we navigate these difficult times.’

Manchester United footballer Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free meals to children who need them – led responses to the image further pictures emerged showing a huge gulf in quality and amount of food.   

This Chartwells box, which is supposed to be for ten days, and instead of a £30 voucher

This Chartwells box, which is supposed to be for ten days, and instead of a £30 voucher

This Chartwells box, which is supposed to be for ten days, and instead of a £30 voucher

One food parcel was handed out in a bin bag

One food parcel was handed out in a bin bag

Inside the bag was food separated out

Inside the bag was food separated out

Amy Weldon, 24, told how she had been given her daughter’s food parcel  in a bin bag

The Manchester United and England footballer (pictured with his mother Melanie at a food bank last year) was responding to an outraged mother who slammed a 10-day hamper

The Manchester United and England footballer (pictured with his mother Melanie at a food bank last year) was responding to an outraged mother who slammed a 10-day hamper

The Manchester United and England footballer (pictured with his mother Melanie at a food bank last year) was responding to an outraged mother who slammed a 10-day hamper

This food parcel was supposed to feed a child for a week, but suppliers forgot to add bread

This food parcel was supposed to feed a child for a week, but suppliers forgot to add bread

This food parcel was supposed to feed a child for a week, but suppliers forgot to add bread

There are huge differences in the quality of food parcels sent to pupils during the lockdown

There are huge differences in the quality of food parcels sent to pupils during the lockdown

There are huge differences in the quality of food parcels sent to pupils during the lockdown

This is part of two boxes sent every week to feed two pupils during the pandemic restrictions

This is part of two boxes sent every week to feed two pupils during the pandemic restrictions

This is part of two boxes sent every week to feed two pupils during the pandemic restrictions

These sorry-looking veg are part of one of the food parcels sent to students at closed schools

These sorry-looking veg are part of one of the food parcels sent to students at closed schools

These sorry-looking veg are part of one of the food parcels sent to students at closed schools

This picture posted online showed a hamper that could be bought from a company for £30

This picture posted online showed a hamper that could be bought from a company for £30

This picture posted online showed a hamper that could be bought from a company for £30

Today the government said it was ‘urgently’ looking into claims the free school meals parcels only contained a few pounds worth of food. Meanwhile doctors at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health wrote to the government over whether they were nutritious enough for children.

Another mother Amy Weldon, 24, told how she had been given her daughter’s food parcel in a bin bag from a different supplier than Chartwells.

She explained to MailOnline: ‘Every parent in the country needs this to be reverted back to the vouchers as some children will starve.

‘The food companies are profiting massively from this. 

‘It’s outrageous at what they’ve given for my daughter and considering it’s meant to be a pandemic because of a virus they shouldn’t be opening food and touching it to re package it

‘I’m absolutely disgusted with what I’ve been given today and I know every parent in the country who has been giving this quantity and quality of food would be feeling exactly the same.’

Unlike the first lockdown, schools are given a grant from the government, which they can spend on getting vouchers for pupils or getting a contractor to supply parcels. 

This time the government has urged schools to try and sort out parcels for the pupils in an effort to help ensure they have a balanced diet. 

This Woodside Primary Academy pupil's food parcel was supposed to last them a week

This Woodside Primary Academy pupil's food parcel was supposed to last them a week

This Woodside Primary Academy pupil’s food parcel was supposed to last them a week

This parcel is supposed to last a child a week but does not appear to contain enough food

This parcel is supposed to last a child a week but does not appear to contain enough food

This parcel is supposed to last a child a week but does not appear to contain enough food

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

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

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

Tiny portions of cheese and soup powder were packaged in bank coin bags among vegetables

Tiny portions of cheese and soup powder were packaged in bank coin bags among vegetables

Tiny portions of cheese and soup powder were packaged in bank coin bags among vegetables

Mum Christa Lee, 39, was shocked at the food package her 17-year-old picked up last week

Mum Christa Lee, 39, was shocked at the food package her 17-year-old picked up last week

Mum Christa Lee, 39, was shocked at the food package her 17-year-old picked up last week

Firm behind the lunch slammed by Rashford 

The company behind the lunches are Chartwells, which is the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland.

On December 8, Chartwells announced it had joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by Marcus Rashford MBE.

Chartwells managing director Charlie Brown said at the time: ‘Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.

‘We know how important nutritious food is to educational attainment, and that food provision is a real struggle for some families, so we fully support widening access to free school meals.

‘We’re now going to be working with the taskforce to provide healthy meals during school holidays for those entitled to free school meals. As the first school caterer on board, I believe our insights and our networks in schools will be valuable, to make a real difference to young lives.’ 

Until December this year Tory donor Paul Walsh was the chairman of Compass, the millionaire showing on Electoral Commission documents giving the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House documents showed he resigned just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he announced he would.

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Until this week suppliers were working on costs of £2.34 a day per student, but on Friday the government increased this by £3.50 a week.

Rashford shared a post by one mother – @RoadsideMum – who posted a picture of a hamper containing bread, cheese, two carrots and a tin of baked beans. 

She wrote: ‘Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest. The private company who have the #FSM contract made good profit here.’

Rashford commented: ‘Where is this being rolled out? If families are entitled to £30 worth of food, why is there delivery only equating to just over £5?! 

‘1 child or 3, this what they are receiving? Unacceptable.’

Next to another picture of a small food parcel, he said: ‘3 days of food for 1 family… just not good enough.’ 

The 23-year-old continued: ‘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.’  

He added late this morning: ‘The value uplift of the FSM Hampers has not yet come into play.

‘We have so many independent businesses who have struggled their way through 2020 – why can’t we mobilize them to support the distribution of food packages? Or am I being naïve?’

Sir Keir wrote: ‘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.’

The Department for Education said it will investigate the claims free school meals do not contain enough food.

It posted on Twitter: ‘We are looking into this. 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.’

Footballer’s food goals 

Footballer Rashford has been at the forefront of the free school meals campaign since the pandemic started.

During the first lockdown pupils at the closed facilities got free vouchers but this was originally cancelled for what would have been the summer holidays.

Rashford campaigned for them to be continued and successfully convinced the government to change its mind.

He wanted the authorities to continue it until Easter this year but this was turned down.

But the Government then said it would provide £170million for food over the Christmas holidays.

Boris Johnson phoned the footballer directly to tell him the news in November.

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Children’s minister Vicky Ford said: ‘I will be looking into this urgently – 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 @roadsidemum.’

She added: One of the reasons why some schools have used food parcels rather than vouchers is that it helps keep them in touch with families.

‘Very sadly during the pandemic there has been an increase in risk to some children. Do call @NSPCC if you are concerned about a child.’

Naomi Willis from Skint Dad commented: ‘While it seems that some food parcels have been good quality, there is a distinct lack of consistency, compared to the previous voucher scheme.

‘The food parcels provided to parents in the current lockdown should be able to feed a child for a week, but what we’ve seen shared by Skint Dad community members falls far short of this and is clearly not good enough.

‘This is adding additional pressure to struggling parents and is letting down children who are caught in the middle.

‘The scheme needs to be reviewed immediately to ensure that all children are provided with enough food or reintroduce the previous voucher scheme today.’

Parents said the meals were dished out to children studying from home by a private contractor.

Government guidance for the free school meals scheme says institutions can apply for an extra £3.50 per student on top of whatever they receive. 

It says: ‘We strongly encourage schools to work with their school catering team or food provider to provide food parcels to eligible free school meal pupils who are at home.’ 

It adds: ‘Where school kitchens are open this should be the approach taken by schools.’

Chartwells said this morning: ‘We take our responsibility to provide children with access to nutritious food very seriously.

‘We have worked hard to produce food hampers at incredibly short notice during these challenging times.

‘Our hampers follow the DofE specifications and contain a variety of ingredients to support families in providing meals throughout the week.

‘In the majority of instances, we have received positive feedback.

‘In this instance, the image on Twitter falls short of our hamper specification and we are keen to investigate with the relevant school so we can address any operational issues that may have arisen.’

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