South Tyneside MPs hit out over ‘pitiful' free school meals provision

The MPs for South Tyneside have condemned Boris Johnson’s Government over deficiencies in its provision of free school meal packages for vulnerable children during lockdown.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 5:23 pm

The MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, and Jarrow MP, Kate Osborne, have both hit out at the inadequacy of the food parcels being delivered to families across the borough, after parents in other parts of the country posted photos on social media of the packages’ meagre food provisions which are intended to last 10 days.

Both MPs confirmed having been contacted by constituents who have been incensed by the revelations or who in some cases have received similarly paltry meal hampers.

These food packages are being sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals and are learning remotely during the third national lockdown.

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The viral images of the food box contents have also drawn sharp criticism from Premier League footballer, Marcus Rashford, who in recent months has campaigned to expand the state-led provision of free school meals along with other welfare causes.

Reacting to the news, Ms Osborne said: "The images of food packages that have been circulating on social media show how much respect the Tories have for the most vulnerable in society.

"Instead of providing £30 vouchers to families, the Government has handed out contracts to private companies who have disgracefully provided these party-bag-like packages containing food that would barely make one meal, never mind last for ten days.”

Ms Osborne urged Jarrow residents who have received similarly inadequate food packages to contact her office.

Jarrow MP, Kate Osborne (left), and South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck

She added: "I have had numerous constituents contact my office who have received similar packages and if any constituents need assistance with accessing food, please contact my office. We are always here to help.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I am sickened to see these pitiful parcels being reported by families.

"They are supposed to amount to an equivalent value of £30, however, it is clear the items in them amount to little more than £5 in value. Someone here is making a clear profit while children go hungry.

"Early this morning I tabled a number of urgent questions to the Government about the free school meals contracts. This matter needs to be resolved as soon as possible."

Chartwells said it is fully investigating the images of food parcels circulating on social media, but the company believes many of them are not its hampers.

A spokesperson for Chartwells said: “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 DfE 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.”

On the food parcel shared by Twitter user Roadside Mum, the spokesperson acknowledged the image “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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