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World

UK PM vows action over free school meals after Rashford intervention

  • Rashford again played a key role in pressuring ministers by this week sharing unhappy parents' images of the meagre food supplies on social media.
13 Jan 2021

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday school meal parcels shown to be poor-quality and low-value were "an insult", after Manchester United star Marcus Rashford highlighted another embarrassing scandal.

Johnson vowed the government "will do everything (it) can to ensure that no child goes hungry" during the coronavirus lockdown, following criticism that it was failing on the provision of the free food packages.

Rashford, who has been campaigning relentlessly on the issue since last year, again played a key role in pressuring ministers by this week sharing unhappy parents' images of the meagre food supplies on social media.

The England striker's calls for action prompted a discussion in parliament.

"I don't think anybody in this House (of Commons) is happy with the disgraceful images that we've seen of the food parcels that have been offered," Johnson told lawmakers in response.

"They are appalling. They're an insult to the families that have received them."

With schools shuttered again this month as part of the national stay-at-home orders, families whose children qualify for free school meals are receiving them in delivered boxes instead.

However, the Department of Education appeared to be failing to meet its own guidance after a mother on Monday shared an image of her meagre parcel, noting its contents contained around just £5 ($7, 5.5 euros) of food.

The boxes, subsidised by the government and issued instead of £30 food vouchers, are supposed to help parents prepare "simple and healthy lunches" for their kids at home across the whole working week.

Rashford, whose high-profile lobbying last year forced Johnson into a U-turn to provide the free meals to the poorest children during school holidays, said "children deserve better than this".

"Something is going wrong and we need to fix it, quickly!" he wrote on Twitter, posting accompanying pictures of the meagre boxes.

The footballer said Wednesday he had had "a good conversation" with the prime minister.

"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," he added on Twitter.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson earlier told a committee of lawmakers that companies supplying inadequate free school meal parcels will be named and shamed.

It had been made clear to the entire education food sector that such behaviour "will not be tolerated", he added.

"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," Williamson said.

Chartwells, the company responsible for the parcel which provoked the criticism, has apologised for not meeting its "high standards" and offered schools refunds for any such cases.

The firm met with Department of Education officials on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

It said in a statement Wednesday it would ensure all parcels met the stipulated requirements from next week.