Patel: Action should be taken against company behind ‘appalling’ food parcels

Priti Patel said Chartwells should be ‘ashamed of themselves’ after images showing the poor-quality hampers were widely shared on social media.

Free school meals
Free school meals

Action should be taken against the food provider which compiled “appalling” free school meal parcels for families, the Home Secretary has said.

Priti Patel said Chartwells should be “ashamed of themselves” after images showing the poor-quality hampers were widely shared on social media.

She told ITV’s This Morning that the parcels were “appalling in every way”.

“I do think the company that were involved with that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves quite frankly.

“It was thoroughly unacceptable and it is right that the Government are investigating them. I personally think some action should be taken against that company.”

A national voucher scheme for free school meals will relaunch on Monday, she said.

Ms Patel is the latest Government minister to condemn the parcels after Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that they were an “insult” to the families who had received them.

His comments came after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford said he had spoken to the Prime Minister about issues with the parcels and he was told that “a full review of the supply chain” was underway.

Mr Johnson said the companies which supplied the much-criticised free school meal offerings to families had been “hauled over the coals” and had been asked to explain how the events took place.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said companies which supply poor food parcels will be named and shamed if they fail to deliver against food standards – and he has urged schools to cancel contracts “where necessary”.

Mr Williamson and children’s minister Vicky Ford met several food caterers and suppliers on Wednesday to discuss free school meals provisions.

Food provider Chartwells has since announced it will add breakfast into its parcels for children eligible for free school meals after it acknowledged that there were local issues following school closures.

Meanwhile a parent of a child eligible for free school meals, at Pimlico Academy in London, was left dissatisfied after they were sent bread mix to bake their own bread as part of their food parcel.

A statement from Future Academies, the academy chain which runs the school, said: “Since the lockdown began, we have been in regular communication with Impact Food Group who provide the food parcels to our Pimlico schools to raise our concerns about the food parcels’ content.

“We stand together with our parents and families in demanding better for our most vulnerable children who are self-isolating at home during this challenging time.”

The academy chain has said its own voucher scheme for families will start next week.

John Hamill, chief executive of Impact Food Group, said: “We are very sorry if parents feel that this is unsuitable and we apologise unreservedly if we caused any distress, it was certainly not our intention.”

He added that bread mix was included in food parcels “to help parents create an interactive cooking experience with their children and to help with some food education at home”.

The National Education Union (NEU) has criticised the Government’s scheme to offer free food to struggling families via councils over February half term.

The Department for Education guidance says schools do not need to provide parcels or vouchers during the break as families eligible for free school meals will be supported through the Government’s Covid Winter Grant Scheme.

But Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, warned of potential disruption to free schools meals provision during the break.

He said: “Suggesting that local councils will be able to recreate a brand new system of supplying free school meals for the week of half-term using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is an unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos this could cause will put millions of children at risk.

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) resources board, said the Covid Winter Grant Scheme was “only a short-term fix” to enable local government to continue to help families facing hardship.

Councillor Watts called on the Government to provide food vouchers to eligible families during February half-term “as it did last summer”.

A Government spokeswoman said: “As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half-term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.

“Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.”

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