Marcus Rashford calls for urgent review of government’s free school meals policy

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Marcus Rashford has escalated his campaign to tackle child food poverty by calling on the prime minister to carry out an urgent review into the government’s free school meals policy in England.

The England and Manchester United striker has already taken the government to task over issues around holiday hunger — forcing a u-turn on the government’s plans not to fund free meals that would otherwise be given to school children during the school break.

Now joining with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and the actress Dame Emma Thompson, the footballer is again pressing ministers to develop a strategy to help end child food poverty.

It comes after provisions for children from low income families were brought to the fore yet again when unappetising images of free meal parcels began to circulate online, prompting anger from the public and politicians alike.

The letter, cosigned by the footballer and more than 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, said they welcomed the “robustness” of his response to the “inadequate” meal parcels being provided by some private companies.

But following what they said were a series of problems — including food voucher provisions and meals over the school break — that had arisen during the pandemic, it was the right time to “step back and review the policy in more depth”.

“This review would provide the government with the opportunity to future-proof its policy on school food, and to carefully consider how best to support low-income children and families in the aftermath of the pandemic,” they said.

“School food is essential in supporting the health and learning of our most disadvantaged children.

“Now, at a time when children have missed months of in-school learning and the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of our health, this is a vital next step.”

Among the steps charities are urging the government to take are a review of eligibility thresholds for free school meals, as well as whether the current allowance was an adequate provision for those living with food poverty.

Ministers have lined up to condemn food parcels handed out to free school meal recipients during lockdown, with Priti Patel the latest to condemn the offering from Chartwells, a school catering brand operated by Compass UK and Ireland linked to some of the offerings.

“The company that were involved with that appalling display of food parcels should be ashamed of themselves quite frankly,” she told ITV’s This Morning.

“It was thoroughly unacceptable and it is right that the government are investigating them. I personally think some action should be taken against that company.”

Chartwells and Compass UK have since apologised for the parcels, and have pledged to include breakfasts as an addition to their offering while providing meals over the February half term free of charge.

In a statement Robin Mills, the managing director of Compass Group said: “The quality and quantity of the produce in the images on Twitter fell short of our usual standards.

He added: “We are moving quickly to fix the problem and to deliver on  our commitments”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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