Recent pictures surfacing on social media of frugal government-funded meals arose outrage notably with footballer Marcus Rashford. This poses a greater question of whether the government has made food scarcity a priority, especially after a rise in school lunch demand due to the impacts of the pandemic, such as a rise in unemployment and a shutting down of schools.
Images have surfaced on social media of frugal school meals lacking in nutritious quality, some even showing cut vegetables, rather than providing whole ones. We saw mothers accounting for the disparity between the money allocated to school lunches and their market value. A mother showed a parcel designed to replace £30’s worth of supermarket vouchers and estimated the shop to cost no more than £5.22. This not only shows a mismanagement of government resources, but also a downright attempt to profit off of hungry children.
Chartwell is a subsidiary of the FTSE 100 catering giant Compass Group. They have been hired by the government to provide school lunches while it revises its supermarket voucher scheme, which resumed on the 18th of January. Government officials showed outrage over the images that surfaced, such as Priti Patel who said that The firm’s CEO has stated that they have “‘taken immediate action to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels’ and ‘will ensure schools affected are compensated’. It is also to provide additional food in line with topped-up Government funding, including breakfasts”.
Why is there a growing demand for school lunches and how has the government responded?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had severe economic consequences, especially when it comes to the BAME community, who have suffered from a level of unemployment 26 times more severe than their white counterparts. Demand for Universal Credit has also increased by 90% since March. The UK had 4.2 million children living in poverty before lockdown and the numbers are only estimated to have risen. The Food Foundation has estimated in a report that food insecurity across the UK had quadrupled by April. They later found that “more than 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their family couldn’t access sufficient food during lockdown and that 31% of children entitled to free school meals were not getting any substitute”. The pandemic has thus left many families struggling to make ends meet, forcing them to rely on free school lunches to feed their children.
The government’s attempt in tackling the issue of rising poverty, and child hunger has included:
- The Job Retention Scheme (ending in April) with “the Government paying up to 80 per cent of workers’ wages” .
- A £20 weekly increase in Universal Credit scheme, put in place during the first wave of the pandemic and supposed to last 12 months.
- A £15 per week per child electronic voucher put in place for all schools in England on March 31, but it was flawed with “technical glitches, inadequate preparation and understaffing, difficulties and delays for school administrators” and families.
- £170 million Covid Winter Grant Fund put in place in December 2020.
What problems have further arisen?
The planned £20 cut of the UC scheme shows to be worrying, as The Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts that “6.2 million families will feel a £1,040 a year cut to their incomes overnight and 500,000 people- including 200,000 children– will be at risk of going into poverty”. Furthermore, the English Government (unlike the Welsh and Scottish) will not provide school lunches during the February break. It has also failed to address its existing policies such as the “No Recourse to Public Funds” policy that “blocks access to free school meals for children from families in which migrant parents are not eligible for publicly funded welfare benefits”.
The mismanagement has forced charities to take over, with UNICEF UK offering £700,000 of its funds next year and The Trussell Trust reporting it supported “81 percent more people during March 2020 than in March 2019”. Human Rights Watch has called on the government to discard its voucher system and offer direct debits to hungry families. It has highlighted the violation of England’s government on acting upon the right to food.
At JAN Trust, we support BAME and underprivileged communities because we believe that every child and young person deserves an equal chance to grow and develop. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have put a focus on supporting women with their mental health. We have also been advocating for the translation of safety guidelines and other documents for those for whom English is not their first language. We work every day to help vulnerable women and BAME individuals and are committed to continuing to support our communities, especially in this third lockdown.
Contact us at [email protected]
Find out if you are eligible for free school lunches: https://www.gov.uk/apply-free-school-meals
Financial help for Haringey residents: https://www.haringey.gov.uk/covid-19/help-for-residents // https://www.haringey.gov.uk/news-and-events/coronavirus-covid-19-haringey-together/covid-19-business-support/financial-support-businesses/covid-19-grant-schemes
Sign Marcus Rashford’s petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276