The contents of food packages intended for underprivileged schoolchildren portrayed on social media are “totally unacceptable” and the company responsible is being told that packages of this standard should not be offered to families, Downing Street said.
There was outrage after parents posted photos of the packages they had received, which were said to be worth £ 30 and purported to provide week-long lunches, but only featured a few boxes, slices of cheese and vegetables .
Footballer and anti-poverty activist Marcus Rashford called the baskets “not good enough” and challenged ministers to do better for children unable to receive their usual free school meals due to the lockdown.
And union leader Sir Keir Starmer called the contents of the packages “woefully insufficient”
Speaking as controversy raged over the footage, Prime Minister’s official spokesman Boris Johnson said: “We are aware of these images circulating on social media, and it is clear that the contents of these packages food is totally unacceptable.
“The Department of Education is addressing this issue urgently and Minister for Children Vicky Ford is speaking to the responsible business.
“They will make it clear that such boxes should not be given to families.”
The spokesperson said the nation’s free school meal voucher program would soon be reopened, but declined to discuss whether it had been delayed due to the sudden announcement of lockdown measures last week.
Food boxes are offered in some areas instead of £ 30 vouchers, although many recipients said they would be able to buy more food with the money themselves.
One parent, using the pseudonym Mizz, said he was given five potatoes, a carrot, a cucumber and a bell pepper as the only vegetables for his two children for a week.
Another user, Roadside Mum, has quantified the contents of the package, valuing £ 5.22 if purchased at his local supermarket.
“Free school lunch bag for 10 days: 2 days of jacket potatoes with beans, 8 cheese sandwiches, 2 days of carrots, 3 days of apples, 2 days of Soreen, 3 days of Frubes,” writes- she. “Public funds were charged £ 30. I would have bought this for £ 5.22. The private company that has the FSM contract has made good profits here. ”
Other images shared by families showed half a tomato or two eggs.
Sharing photos of the packages on social media, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford said: “Just not good enough. Imagine then that we expect children to engage in learning from home.
“Not to mention the parents who sometimes have to teach them who probably haven’t eaten at all so that their children can… We have to do better.”
Union leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The images appearing online on unfortunately inadequate free school lunch packages are a disgrace.
“Where is the money going? This needs to be sorted immediately so families don’t go hungry during lockdown.
Chartwells, a food distribution company that has been named by a mother as the source of her family’s package, said it was launching an investigation.
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” the company said in a tweet. “This does not reflect the specification of any of our baskets. ”
Foodwriter Jack Monroe, who describes herself as a “former food bank mom turned accidental activist”, described the packages as “offensively skinny leftovers.”
She said: “There seems to be a widespread tendency to think that if you are in poverty you should be ‘thankful’ for everything you get.
“People in difficult situations are PEOPLE, who deserve a good meal no less than anyone else.”
Ms Ford said she would look into the matter “urgently” but defended the use of packages instead of vouchers for families in need.
She said: “One of the reasons some schools have used food packages instead of vouchers is that it helps them stay in touch with families.
“Unfortunately, during the pandemic there has been an increased risk for some children. Call NSPCC if you are concerned about a child. ”
The DfE said: “We have clear guidelines and standards for food packages, which we hope will be followed.
“Packages need to be nutritious and contain a variety of foods.
The Independent has contacted Chartwells for further comment.