Inadequate food parcels being offered to families on free school meals are nothing short of outrageous
Families deserve dignity and rightly expect high-quality food for their children during school closures. The food provision offered to families in receipt of free school meals is simply not good enough.
Free school meals aren’t a luxury. They’re a hard fought for necessity for millions of children up and down the country.
For some children, the meal they receive at school is the only nutritious meal they will have to eat that day.
So, when schools closed for the second time in ten months due to tighter lockdown restrictions earlier this month, getting food to families in receipt of free school meals was crucial.
Without immediate guidance from the Department for Education, schools, catering teams and Local Authorities across the country stepped up to ensure children continued to receive food whilst they were away from school.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, which I set up and have chaired for ten years, wrote to the Department for Education last week calling on the Minister to encourage schools to use their existing catering teams to provide food provision.
Like a lot of industries, the school food supply chain has taken a significant hit throughout the pandemic as demand ebbs and flows with school closures and attendance rates.
The APPG wants the school food supply chain and sector to survive the pandemic and be ready to return to business as usual when schools reopen so that children can once again receive a hot and healthy meal at school.
Stale bread, browning bananas, peppers and tomatoes cut in half and tins of beans do not meet the expectations or standards of meals in our schools
There is no silver bullet when it comes to replacing that meal. But it’s clear from the photos circulating on social media that some of the food provision offered to families in receipt of free school meals is simply not good enough.
Families deserve dignity and rightly expect high-quality food to ensure that their children continue to eat healthy food throughout the school closures. But stale bread, browning bananas, peppers and tomatoes cut in half and tins of beans do not meet those expectations or the standards of meals in our schools.
The photos on social media are nothing short of outrageous. I share the anger and heartbreak of families who have received inadequate food parcels and know that if they had directly received the cost of the food themselves, they would have been able to purchase more appropriate food for their families.
That’s why I am pleased to see a return of the national voucher scheme next week.
The vouchers aren’t perfect; in the first lockdown, schools and families had difficulties accessing the scheme and some parents faced their voucher being declined at the till.
But the vouchers will see a return to dignity for families, who will be able to choose the food that is right for them, not what providers think is right for them.
Nutritious food is so important to the health and development of our children. They’re going to need it as we make our way through the pandemic and begin to recover from it.
That’s why, as Chair of the APPG on School Food, I will continue to campaign to ensure every child has access to healthy and affordable food so that they can grow up to be fit and healthy adults.
And I will campaign to ensure that when schools return, children once again receive the hot and healthy meals they need and deserve.
Sharon Hodgson is the Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West and chair of the APPG on school food.