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Gavin Williamson has done a U-turn on free school meal regulations, revealing that schools will be able to return to he nationwide government voucher programme from Monday.
While they will be given the option to continue using local services, the move has been put in place to help those parents across the country who have been complaining about dissatisfactory food parcels for their children.
The Education Secretary told the Education Committee in the Commons he would be bringing back the £15 voucher scheme from the start of next week, offering parents coupons which can be used in supermarkets to put towards a week's worth of food for their kids.
It comes after Williamson promised to call out companies who weren't providing meal parcels that were up to scratch.
Commenting on images that were circulating on social media of meagre food parcels, he added he was "absolutely disgusted" - particularly referencing one that had been given to a disabled mother of two.
#FreeSchoolMeals bag for 10 days:- Roadside Mum :tiger: (@RoadsideMum) January 11, 2021
2 days jacket potato with beans
8 single cheese sandwiches
2 days carrots
3 days apples
2 days soreen
3 days frubes
Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.
Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest. pic.twitter.com/87LGUTHXEu
"As a dad myself, I thought 'how could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required?' It's just not acceptable," he said, before revealing he had spoken to Chartwells, the company that provided the hamper in question.
Adding that he had made clear to the education food sector as a whole that such hampers "will not be tolerated", he went on: "We will not live with that.
"There are clear standards that are set there that they need to deliver against and if they do not deliver against them, action will have to be taken."
The decision follows another conversation between the Prime Minister and Manchester United footballer, Mr Rashford, where they discussed the issues with the food hampers.
"He has assured me that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place," Marcus said a the statement shortly afterwards.
"He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable".
Backlash begun after a disappointed mother has tweeted a photo of the tiny amount of food she was given to last her children ten days, as part of the government's pledge to provide free school meals.
In a post which has since been shared over 21,000 times on Twitter, the woman - whose handle is @Roadsidemum - shared a snap of a loaf of bread, one bag of pasta, a can of baked beans, two malt loaf snacks and three snack size tubes of fromage frais, as well as some cheese, three apples, two carrots, one tomato, two baked potatoes and two bananas.
3 days of food for 1 family...
Just not good enough. pic.twitter.com/Y7FJEFFAma
- Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021
"Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest," she wrote alongside the picture.
She then went on to price all the items, revealing that if she had bought them at ASDA it would have cost her just over £5 in total.
In some areas, these hampers were being offered instead of £30 vouchers.
"The private company who have the #FSM contract made good profit here," the mother wrote on social media under her viral post.
The unnamed mother said the parcel had been issued by a private company named Chartwells, who had been contracted by the Department for Education. The company has since said it is investigating the claims, adding that the picture "does not reflect the specification" of one of their hampers.
She is far from alone with her dissatisfaction, though.
And other one. This is for two twelve year olds for a week. pic.twitter.com/oMLy0ns8yP
- Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) January 12, 2021
Other images showed some families had been sent half a red pepper, a tomato or just two eggs.
Responding to the images, food writer Jack Monroe wrote that the hampers being offered were nothing more than "offensively meagre scraps", adding: "There seems to be a prevalent train of thought that if you're in poverty you should be 'grateful' for anything you get.
"People in difficult situations are PEOPLE, no less 'deserving' of a good meal than anyone else."
Meanwhile, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, tweeted: "The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.
"Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don't go hungry through lockdown."
At the time, Manchester United footballer and free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford also had his say on the scandal, retweeting several damning images onto his own page, and urging the government to act.
"3 days of food for 1 family ... Just not good enough," he wrote, before later adding: "Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home. Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them who probably haven't eaten at all so their children can ... We MUST do better. This is 2021."
It comes after footie star Rashford pushed the government to make a U-turn on the provision of free school meals in June, during the summer holidays - later landing an MBE for the social media rallying.
In autumn, Rashford once again succeeded in pushing the government to continue their free school meals programme into further school holidays.
As set out in the government's £170m Covid winter grant scheme, kids with be pithy to activities and food programmes across Easter, summer and Christmas breaks this year, as well as during lockdown, when they are missing out on school.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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