Caterer accused of 'humiliating' families on free school meals by telling them to bake their own bread

Camilla Turner
·4-min read
Food parcels for families that received free school meal vouchers  - ANDREW BOYERS/REUTERS
Food parcels for families that received free school meal vouchers - ANDREW BOYERS/REUTERS

The row over free school meals deepened on Wednesday as a second caterer was accused of "humiliating" families by sending them bread mix to bake their own bread.

Impact Food Group, which says on its website that it is "driven by creating a positive food culture", was told by an academy chain that it must improve the quality of its meal deliveries.

One mother said it is “disgraceful” that her children, who attend Pimlico Academy, were sent pots of bread mix and told to bake eight bread rolls which could take up to an hour.

A spokesman for Future Academies, the multi-academy trust which runs Pimlico Academy, said: “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."

It came as Downing Street ordered an urgent investigation after another mother published a photograph of her child’s meagre looking food delivery on Twitter which included a loaf of bread, a tin of baked beans, two bananas, some cheese, three apples, two carrots, two potatoes, three Frubes, one tomato, a bag of pasta and two packets of Soreen.

Chartwells, the company that provided the meal in question, has since apologised and said that it will send out breakfast free of charge along with lunch to all recipients of free school meals.

Gavin Williamson told the education select committee: “When I saw that picture I was absolutely disgusted. As a dad myself, I just thought how could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required?

“It is just not acceptable. It has been made absolutely clear to Chartwells and to the whole section that that sort of behaviour is just not right, it will not be tolerated, we will not live with that.”

He said that “clear standards” must be set for school caterers, and if these are not met “actions will have to be taken”.

The Department for Education has now set up a hotline for parents to complain about food deliveries and has promised that its national voucher scheme - where children are given £15 worth of vouchers each week to spend on food at supermarkets - will be up and running from Monday.

Meanwhile, Labour said that there are “striking similarities” between the image of a food “hamper” which went viral on social media earlier this week and the Department for Education’s advice on what should be provided.

An analysis by Labour has found that the image that had been circulating and widely condemned on social media was only slightly different to the meal specifications as set out by the DfE.

According to Government guidance, an example parcel for one child for five days should include one loaf of bread, two baking potatoes, one cucumber, three large tomatoes, one tin of sweetcorn, five portions of fresh fruit, a tin of meat or tuna, six eggs, three cheese portions, one tin of baked beans, three yoghurt pots and one litre of semi-skimmed milk.

Tulip Siddiq MP, the Shadow Children’s Minister, said: “The images that have been circulating on social media are shameful. But these revelations about the Government’s own guidance means that ministers’ newfound concern rings hollow.”

Marcus Rashford, the England striker turned food poverty campaigner, said that he had discussed the issue with Boris Johnson on Wednesday.

“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,” Rashford said. “He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.”

John Hamill, chief executive of Impact Food Group, said the intention behind sending the bread mix to families was to "help parents create an interactive cooking experience with their children and to help with some food education at home. Water is the only additional ingredient required and a full recipe was provided."

He added that his company had received positive feedback on this during the first lockdown so they continued to provide it for the most recent parcels.

"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 said.

"We strongly believe that parents should be given the flexibility and choice to provide the most suitable food for their child when out of school. This is simply not possible from a parcel scheme, which school caterers are not well-equipped to deliver, especially at short-notice."