Thank you for contacting me about the quality of free school meals.
I understand that this has been a very challenging time for children and families, and I know that Ministers recognise this and welcome that they have put the interests of children at the heart of Government policy.
The Government has taken several unprecedented steps during the pandemic to ensure that those eligible for free school meals continued to receive them, even if they were not attending school. I also welcome that eligible pupils are receiving provisions during this current period of closures.
However, I am aware that concerns have been raised over the quality and quantity of the food provided. The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have both made clear that the quality of some of the parcels provided is wholly unacceptable. Having looked into this personally, I understand the Department for Education (DfE) is investigating these reports and I welcome that the Children’s Minister has committed to look into it as a matter of urgency. The DfE has clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which should cover all lunchtime meals. It is expected that parcels should be nutritious, contain a varied range of food, and that provisions should not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home.
I am aware that Chartwells, a provider of these parcels, has already begun an investigation into this matter.
DfE guidance encourages schools to work with their catering teams or food provider to provide parcels to eligible pupils who are not attending school, but, if this is not possible, I welcome that a national voucher scheme is in place so that every eligible child can access free school meals whilst their school remains closed.
On a separate note, I welcome that the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is to be expanded in 2021, and that Healthy Start payments are set to increase from April.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important issue.
Sally-Ann Hart MP