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‘Parasites of the pandemic’: Chartwells condemned over meagre free school meals provision

A FIRM hired by the government to provide food bags in lieu of free school meals was branded a parasite and corrupt today after a mother revealed the meagre contents of the one she received for her child.

She posted a photo of what is supposed to be enough food for 10 days’ lunches for a child studying at home while schools are closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The purported value of the food is £30, charged to the public purse, but the mother said she calculated it to be worth just over £5.

The bag was provided by Chartwells, part of British catering transnational the Compass Group — whose former chairman Paul Walsh was a member of former Tory prime minister David Cameron’s business advisory group.

The food bags were compared with the gourmet-quality food provided by the company to private schools, where meals included tandoori roast pollock and Goan curry of prawns and mussels.

The mother’s picture of what is provided to state-school pupils shows a loaf of bread, a tin of beans, eight single slices of cheese, three yoghurt tubes, three apples, two bananas, two carrots,  two fruitcake slices, two potatoes, one salad tomato and a small sandwich bag of penne pasta.

Tweeting with the handle @RoadsideMum, she wrote: “[This was] issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest.”

Commenting on the picture, Labour MP Richard Burgon said: “This is supposed to be £30 worth of lunches for a child?

“It looks like yet another case of the government helping its corporate friends become parasites of the pandemic.

“Hunger is being used as a financial opportunity. Squeezing extra profit from hungry kids. It must stop.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson “must fix this today.” She asked: “Into whose pockets is the money for free school meals going? Who is profiteering from our hungry children being provided with disgracefully inadequate meals?

“It is dehumanising, humiliating, callous and cruel. Our kids deserve better.”

Labour called for the return of the national supermarket voucher scheme, which the government has now committed to restarting for children in receipt of free school meals.

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton urged the government to “get a move on” with reopening the scheme.

“Schools have been left having to piece together provision by arranging for food parcels and local vouchers. As we have seen from these images online of inadequate food parcels, this can go wrong, and we need the availability of a universal system,” he said.

Chartwells, which on its Twitter page claims to be “nourishing young bodies and minds with exceptional food and learning,” wrote in response to @RoadsideMum’s original post: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, this does not reflect the specification of one of our hampers.

“Please can you [direct message] us the details of the school that your child attends and we will investigate immediately.”

It later released a statement which contested the mother’s claim. It said that the picture “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.”

Providing the excuse that the parcels were put together “at extremely short notice,” the firm said it was “very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.”

It also thanked footballer and campaigner against child hunger Marcus Rashford, who had earlier condemned the “unacceptable” provision of food and while calling for the system to be fixed quickly.

He had posted pictures of other free school-meal bags, including one with chopped-down vegetables such as half a red pepper, a carrot stub, half a tomato, a quarter of an onion and small portions of cheese and tuna stored in banks’ coin bags.

The mother who posted the photo to him said that she was unsure whether it had been provided by Chartwells, but added that the school was so “disgusted” by the meagre provisions that it had switched to vouchers.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We’re aware of those images circulating on social media, and it is clear that the contents of those food parcels are completely unacceptable.

“The Department for Education is looking into this urgently and the minister for children, Vicky Ford, is speaking to the company responsible and they will be making it clear that boxes like this should not be given to families.”

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