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Free school meals in UK: Minister demands urgent improvement, company to refund costs

Christian Fernsby |
Caterers must "urgently" improve the quality of food parcels being provided to the poorest pupils in England while schools are closed during the national lockdown, a minister has said.

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Children's minister Vicky Ford said this would ensure eligible children received "a healthy, nutritious lunch".

It comes after footballer Marcus Rashford shared images of some parcels online, calling them "not good enough".

One post, by Roadside Mum on Twitter, was picked up by news outlets.

Food parcels are currently being sent to school children in England who would normally get free school meals.

A row broke out after Roadside Mum posted the photo of two carrots, two potatoes, a tin of baked beans and a small range of other food items, which she calculated to have cost about £5. The post prompted others to complain about the quality and quantity of the food in parcels.

The mother, who does not want to be identified, had thought it was supposed to last 10 school days and should have been worth £30.

Chartwells, the company that provided the parcel, said it was actually only intended to last one school week and had cost £10.50 for food, packing and distribution.

The firm said it had been required to provide thousands of food parcels "at extremely short notice" - but acknowledged it was insufficient and apologised.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Ford said the food parcels being shared online were "completely unacceptable" and "do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we expect to be sent to children".

She added: "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."

She said the government would now be demanding that caterers "urgently improve the quality of lunches they provide to children".

"This will make sure every one of them receives a healthy and nutritious lunch that will give them the fuel they need to focus on learning at home."

Ms Ford has said anyone with evidence of problems should provide details to the Department of Education for investigation.

The government will set out further details on Wednesday of how best to report this and other matters, she said.

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