'I gave the meat to the dog': Leeds mum slams 'unacceptable' free school meal hamper

A Leeds mum said she was "shocked" at the state of the free school meal hamper that was sent from her son's secondary school.
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The mum, who wanted to remain anonymous, criticised the five-day food hamper sent by Cockburn School in Beeston after examples of meagre hampers went viral on social media earlier this week.

Boris Johnson branded the parcels seen online as an insult to the families that had received them, while Home Secretary Priti Patel said they were “unacceptable”.

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The south Leeds mum said: "I was shocked they actually think it’s acceptable to send it to a child.

The hamper the south Leeds mum said she received from Cockburn School.The hamper the south Leeds mum said she received from Cockburn School.
The hamper the south Leeds mum said she received from Cockburn School.

"They shouldn’t send stuff out that - they wouldn’t like for there own child

"There are many reasons people are on benefits - the hampers should help not be put in the bin."

She said she gave the meat to her dog as it was "like rubber".

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The mum said the school returned with a second box after she contacted them, but still felt they were "unacceptable".

A Leeds City Council hamper.A Leeds City Council hamper.
A Leeds City Council hamper.

Cockburn School, which uses an unnamed private provider to source it boxes, said items were missing from the hamper pictured.

The local authority provides free school meals for 187 primaries, but most secondary schools in the city use private providers.

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A spokeswoman for Cockburn School said: "Cockburn School’s free school meal packs are provided by one of our suppliers and the process is overseen by school staff, if any parent has received a parcel that appears to have missing items as this one does then please contact us.

A hamper another parent at Cockburn School received.A hamper another parent at Cockburn School received.
A hamper another parent at Cockburn School received.

"If you have already made contact but this has not been rectified then please do call again

"The picture sent to us does not appear to be one of the hampers we are providing such as:

Eggs x 6

Four jellies

Beans

Two Jacket potatoes

One cucumber

One satsuma

One apple

One tin of sweetcorn

"We would request any parent with any concerns contact the school office and ask to speak to the Business Manager at school direct to resolve."

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the national voucher scheme for free school meals will relaunch next week, after education leaders, campaigners and MPs called on the Government to roll out the programme urgently.

It means parents can choose the food they want their children to eat as opposed to being sent hampers.

The Cockburn spokeswoman added: "The Government has announced that they will be reopening the voucher scheme that ran through the first lockdown, from Monday 18th January for four weeks until the February half term.

"All children who currently receive free school meals will receive vouchers, with the exception of those children who are continuing to attend the academy they will receive their free school meal on site.

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"All families currently receiving free school meals will automatically be enrolled in this scheme and no action is required of you at this stage.

"Further details will be forthcoming early next week."

Free school meal parcels – key questions answered

Free school meals are back in focus after pictures of meagre food parcels sent to families were widely shared on social media.

The food packages have sparked condemnation from a range of people including the Prime Minister, Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford and cook Jack Monroe.

– Have children been receiving school meals during the pandemic?

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Yes. The Government said schools in England should provide meal options for all eligible pupils, including vulnerable children and the children of key workers, regardless of whether they are being educated in the classroom or at home.

Meals should be available free of charge to all infant pupils and those who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria.

It said schools may consider working with their school catering team or an external food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels to eligible pupils who are at home.

Around 1.3m children in England are eligible for free school meals.

– What has Marcus Rashford got to do with it?

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The England star became known for food poverty campaigning during the pandemic, forcing a Government U-turn on offering free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays.

The 23-year-old has drawn widespread praise for highlighting the issue, with his campaigning also resulting in the Government back-tracking to announce free meals would be provided to disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays too.

He described the food offerings shown in pictures that emerged this week as “just not good enough” and called for the system to be fixed “quickly”.

– What did the pictures of food on social media show?

An image posted on Twitter by a mother called Sarah showed the food she had received all laid out, and she wrote: “2 days jacket potato with beans, 8 single cheese sandwiches, 2 days carrots, 3 days apples, 2 days soreen, 3 days frubes. Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.

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“Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest.”

– Who put the parcel together and have they explained their efforts?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it has been made clear to Chartwells, the company that provided the pictured parcel, as well as the entire education food sector, that such behaviour “will not be tolerated”.

Chartwells said the picture shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was £10.50 and not the £30 suggested by Sarah.

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The company said they are very sorry that the quantity has “fallen short in this instance”, later adding that they will be adding breakfast into their parcels from January 25, which will be free to schools for all children eligible for meals.

Rashford, who said he had reached out to Chartwells, tweeted that they had clarified that they were not the exclusive supplier of free school meals across the UK.

– What is a food parcel expected to contain?

The Government website provides a link to a webpage which sets out some general principles for putting together a food parcel.

It includes a list of food items billed as an example parcel for one child for five days.

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The list includes: one loaf of bread or pack of rolls/10-inch wraps, two baking potatoes, one cucumber, three large tomatoes or one pack of cherry tomatoes, one standard tin of sweetcorn in water, five portions of fresh fruit (eg apples, satsumas, bananas) or three portions of fresh fruit and one tin fruit in juice (eg pears, peaches, fruit cocktail), two items from the following: one pack of sliced cooked meat (eg chicken, ham or vegetarian alternative) or one tin of meat or one tin of tuna in water or six eggs, 200g block of cheese or three cheese portions, one tin baked beans, one 500g pot plain low-fat yoghurt or three individual serving yoghurt pots, one litre / two pints semi-skimmed milk.

Food parcels should not rely on giving parents additional ingredients so they have to prepare meals at home.

– Can families receive vouchers instead?

Yes, soon. Mr Williamson said the national voucher scheme for free school meals will relaunch next week, after education leaders, campaigners and MPs called on the Government to roll out the programme urgently.

People will receive an email from supplier Edenred by January 14, advising on how to either reset their password or activate their account for the first time.

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They will then receive an email confirming when they can order vouchers during the week commencing January 18.

Once families have received their voucher, they will be able to redeem them in store by either presenting a paper copy or showing it on a smartphone.

– What do the food suppliers say?

Laca (the Lead Association for Catering in Education) said it was “disappointed” by the images of the food parcels as they are not up to standard.

Its says its guidance to members states the parcels should be nutritionally balanced and include a range of ingredients to provide one meal for one child for five days.

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– What can people do if they are unhappy with food provision?

Parents should contact their schools in the first instance or call the Education Department helpline.

Mr Williamson said: “We have also urged schools, academy trusts and councils to take robust action, including cancelling a contract where necessary.”