Food writer Jack Monroe helps force government U-turn on free school meal vouchers
Jack Monroe has helped to force the UK government to U-turn on its free school meal provision during coronavirus lockdown.
Since Monday (11 January) the food writer, who has been open about their experience of trying to feed their own child while living in poverty, has been among those pressuring the government to bring back food vouchers for parents whose children receive free school meals.
Parents have been taking to social media to share shocking images of inadequate food parcels, intended to provide 10 days of lunches for one child, that they have been given in place of £30 vouchers to spend in supermarkets.
The parcels some have been receiving have been estimated to represent approximately £5 worth of food at supermarket prices.
#FreeSchoolMeals bag for 10 days:
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.
Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest. pic.twitter.com/87LGUTHXEu
— Roadside Mum 🐯 (@RoadsideMum) January 11, 2021
After widespread outrage, campaigning by Monroe and an intervention by the footballer and activist Marcus Rashford, the government has performed a U-turn on the food parcels.
But when Labour leader Keir Starmer read out Department for Education guidance for an example food parcel, the list was strikingly similar.
Starmer said the guidance suggests that a parcel to provide lunches for one child for five days would include “one loaf of bread, two baked potatoes, block of cheese, baked beans, three individual yoghurts”.
He added: “Sound familiar? That’s the images, prime minister, that you just called disgraceful.
“The only difference I can see in this list and what the prime minister described as disgraceful is a tin of sweetcorn, a packet of ham and a bottle of milk.
“So he blames others, but this is on his watch. The truth is, families come last under this government, whether it’s exams, free school meals or childcare.”
On the same day, official guidance on the provision of free school meals during lockdown was updated.
Where guidance previously “strongly encouraged” schools to use food parcels, insisting “where school kitchens are open this should be the approach taken by schools”, it now leaves the choice up to individual schools whether to use parcels, local vouchers or the national voucher scheme.
In a section describing the “significant benefits” of food parcels, “continuation of financial support to school caterers” has been removed.
The voucher scheme will be available to all schools from Monday.
Jack Monroe celebrated the U-turn on vouchers for free school meals
Having worked through the night replying to worried parents and keeping up pressure on the government, Jack Monroe took to Twitter again to celebrate the government U-turn.
They wrote: NATIONAL FREE SCHOOL MEAL VOUCHER SCHEME IS COMING BACK NEXT WEEK! We did it!!! THANK YOU!!!!
“I’m crying into the cat. Christ I need some sleep.”
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NATIONAL FREE SCHOOL MEAL VOUCHER SCHEME IS COMING BACK NEXT WEEK! We did it!!! THANKYOU!!!!
I’m crying into the cat 🐈 Christ I need some sleep
— Jack Monroe (@BootstrapCook) January 13, 2021
Just 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 agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 13, 2021
Footballer Marcus Rashford, whose campaigning previously forced the government to offer vouchers to families over the Christmas school holidays, and whose work was vital in exposing the food parcel scandal, confirmed on Twitter he had spoken to Boris Johnson, and that the prime minister had “committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place”.