Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener
Companies that deliver substandard food parcels to families will be "named and shamed", the education secretary has said as it was announced the voucher scheme the hampers were meant to replace will be returning.
Gavin Williamson told a committee of MPs he was “absolutely disgusted” after seeing a picture of a meagre food parcel delivered to a disabled mother of two.
The picture posted on Twitter was among other photos on social media showing poor-quality and low-value parcels sent to families during lockdown.
“As a dad myself I thought how could a family in receipt of that really be expected to deliver five nutritious meals as is required, it’s just not acceptable,” he said, speaking at an education select committee hearing.
Mr Williamson said it had been made clear to Chartwells - as one of the leading suppliers - as well as the entire sector that such behaviour “will not be tolerated” and that action would be taken against companies that did not maintain the proper standards.
“We will not live with that,” he said.
“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.”
He said Chartwells had apologised for the incident and that the government would support any school that needed to take action against a food contractor, adding "we will name and shame any of those that are not delivering against the standards."
During Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson condemned some of the free school meal offerings being sent to families as “disgraceful” after images of poor-quality food parcels were widely shared on social media.
After being asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer if if he would be happy for his children to be living on such meals, Mr Johnson said photos of meals delivered to parents during the latest lockdown were “appalling” and an “insult” to the families who had received them
Footballer Marcus Rashford, who has campaigned for free school meals during the coronavirus crisis, revealed he had spoken to prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday who said he was "committed to correcting the issue" with food hampers.
Health secretary Matt Hancock refused to say whether he regretted voting against free school meals during an interview on ITV's Good Morning Britain.
Pressed repeatedly by presenter Piers Morgan, he declined to give a yes or no answer, saying: “I am really glad that the situation has been resolved.”
“You got shamed into it by a young footballer with a conscious," Morgan said.
He added: “You wouldn’t have done it without Marcus Rashford campaigning.”
Vouchers will now be available through the national voucher scheme from the week commencing 18 January, updated government guidance said.
In a statement, the Department of Education said schools could arrange local vouchers schemes for parents and reimbursing schools up to a value of £15 per pupil per week.
"Reimbursed costs will be backdated to 4 January where schools were asked to close to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers."Children and families minister Vicky Ford said she met the managing director of Chartwells on Tuesday “and he has assured me they have taken immediate action to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels. They will ensure schools affected are compensated and they will provide additional food to the eligible child in line with our increased funding”.
A spokesperson for Chartwells said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. For clarity, this shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.
“However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.”