What is the Tories’ problem with feeding children?

Just when you think that the Tories couldn’t sink any lower than their opposition to providing help to families with free school meals during the holidays, they have gone one further.

All over social media, there are pictures of the sorts of food packages that are being sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals.

Daisy Cooper has written to the Education Secretary to ask him to investigate and sort this out – by giving vouchers to families rather than these “woefully inadequate” and “abysmal” packages:

It is completely unacceptable that parents have received woefully inadequate food parcels in place of free school meals.

The amount of food parents have received to feed their children is not anything like enough to provide an adequate, nutritious lunch every day. Nor do they appear to represent value for money, given what the parcels should theoretically be worth.

I have written to the Secretary of State asking him to investigate the situation urgently and replace these abysmal hampers with food vouchers.

Time and time again, this Government has let children and families down on the issue of free school meals, which are critical to the education and future of so many children.

Families feeding children on a tight budget are experts in making a little money go a long way. They have to be – and the fact that so many struggle is something that we should be thoroughly ashamed of. In the short term, they should be given vouchers to buy their food themselves but we need to properly get to grips with ending poverty in this country:

A policy working group is currently working out a UBI model for the party to adopt. I think it needs to be one which actually makes a difference and can give people what they need to meet their basic needs for food and shelter.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • John Marriott 12th Jan '21 - 10:37pm

    While I am sure that there are many private providers of food, PPE etc giving value for money, one cannot help but draw conclusions that many are happy to rip us off. With the likes of Kwasi Kwarteng joining fellow ‘Britannia Unchained’ authors such as Raab, Truss and Patel in the cabinet, we can see the direction of the government going down the road towards the survival of the fittest.

  • nigel hunter 12th Jan '21 - 11:05pm

    Market Fundamentalism (19th century laissez faire) starting to raise its head to DEFINATELY rip off the majority.Free market capitalism the opposite of Liberalism

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Jan '21 - 8:50am

    Might the firms issuing these deficient and over-priced food parcels be guilty of embezzlement?
    Might they be prosecuted?

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jan '21 - 9:10am

    While this is a particularly appalling example of failure I can’t see in principle any difference between this example of horribly poor performance and provision of other public services by the private sector where the beneficiaries are the less well off. So nothing about this surprises me.

  • …………….What is the Tories’ problem with feeding children?……….

    There is no problem as far as they are concerned..Why is anyone surprised that, after all the ‘sweetheart’ Covid contracts, the prime interest of the private companies concerned is to make a profit…
    Every £15 parcel that contains £5 of food is a ‘great deal’ for everyone in the chain except the recipients..

  • Nigel, Steve, Noncom and Expats have all called it right – I just wish the party leadership in Parliament would do that too.

    I remember my old (now sadly long gone) mild mannered friend Donald Wade M.P. saying, “People say we’re just a party of protest….. Well, there’s a lot to protest about”.

    There’s a vacuum waiting to be filled by a radical liberal party of protest which calls out the rottenness of a modern political culture of selfishness, greed and chumocracy….. but to do that that must first cross the Rubicon of despatching the Coalition legacy.

  • Phil Beesley 13th Jan '21 - 10:57am

    Oh dear, Caron, there are so many possible answers to your question.

    There’s the perception of deservedness. Some people can only cope with the idea of bare rations (five day old sandwiches!) and that children do not deserve any joy from their meals.

    There’s also ignorance. I’m sure that many Tories are unaware of how much quality food you can buy for a tenner. They don’t realise that other bodies — which might even include some commercials — are more able to provide a “hamper” than their preferred volume production contractors.

    I suggest these reasons because they are emblematic of Tory behaviour. And of others sadly. Ask yourself why the design and fittings of some social housing are so ugly when it costs nothing to provide something more pleasing but equally functional.

  • This is a good example of govn money disappearing into the ether that is replicated throughout the welfare system that (educated guess) is burning through 150 billion (excluding the state pension) but failing to provide adequate funding for most people. I mean three million unemployed given 10k each works out at 30 billion but as soon as I write that you will get hordes of people complaining that they don’t get anything like that! The LibDems need to burrow down into the figures to see what all the money is disappearing to…

  • Daniel Walker 13th Jan '21 - 11:54am

    @David Raw “ I just wish the party leadership in Parliament would do that too.

    Daisy Cooper is the Spokesperson for Education, does that not count?

  • @ Daniel Walker Does that not count ?

    I gather her comment is in the Hertfordshire Advertiser. I’m not sure how big the circulation of the Advertiser is, but well done her for trying.

  • Somehow Daniel, sending a letter to a minister and tweeting about it does not even come close to what our spokespeople need to do to have an impact.

    Marcus Rashford has had a discussion with the PM according to his twitter account.

  • Memmott Alan 13th Jan '21 - 12:11pm

    Straight forward error by the Tories who believe everything should go through a private company. Whats wrong with the right tool for the right job. Use the schools to distribute money vouchers for the local supermarket. Simple. Bet I could walk into the most expensive supermarket and buy myself food for five meals with fifteen quid.

  • Straight forward error by the Tories who believe everything should go through a private company. Whats wrong with the right tool for the right job. Use the schools to distribute money vouchers for the local supermarket.

    Um, a supermarket is a private company. (And it is exactly the right tool for this job, but don’t pretend that the involvement of ‘private company’ is the problem here: quite the reverse).

  • David Evans 13th Jan '21 - 1:06pm

    Boris Johnson describes it as disgraceful.

    Gavin Williamson was absolutely disgusted.

    Lib Dems write a letter to minister and would “appreciate your response … at the earliest possible opportunity.”

    I fear some of us just don’t get it, do we?

  • As Keir Starmer pointed out at PMQ’s. those parcels that Johnson condemned were actually contained the items listed in current government advice..

    Johnson was nonplussed (someonr in No10 will be shouted at) and, as usual, blustered and ranted and was reprimanded by the speaker for ‘not addressing the question asked’,,

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Jan '21 - 3:34pm

    Very good comments.

    Some are absent the answer.

    Put money in thy purse!

    Do not think Iago is meant to refer to kids meals, but it works here!

    We ought trust families. Increase their funds. take choice and give it to people. Universal minimum income guarantee, then universal basic income.

    The annoying thing is, I am convinced this party would be far better of, as too the Greens, in actual alliance with labour now, the Cooperatives have more mps then this party and Greens, and they input into decisions .

    Nobody in the liberal Democrats in parliament differs one iota to many there from Labour. The parties do though, differ. If Labour had this party as a side arm, the far left and authoritarian right of it would never have dominated it.

    Bring on the new version of the US Democrats, Bernie to Biden!

  • Regarding childrens’ meals..A ‘for profit’ company can supply the following selection for under £30..BTW these meals do not need freezing..

    10 Meal Express Delivery Selection

    2 x Cottage Pie (270g)

    2 x Lasagne (270g)

    2 x Lamb Hotpot (270g)

    2 x Sweet & Sour Chicken with Long Grain Rice (395g)

    2 x Beef Stew (270g)

    There are umpteen other choices that could be tailored to a child’s tastes..However, when it comes to the poorest children in society, it seems that ‘Rip off Britain’ rules..

  • Chartwell UK, the Chumocracy and the Tory Party ? The contractor in question isChartwell UK, part of the Compass Group plc, a multinational food service provider based in Chertsey.

    The Group plc’s Chair until last month was one Paul Walsh, a Tory Party donor who sat on David Cameron’s business advisory group, and whose former company, Diageo, is alleged to have underreported profits to minimise its tax. Walsh was paid £ 11.2 million back in 2012. Enthusiasts for UBI would be wise not to include such as Walsh amongst their beneficiaries and to ward him the same amount as the mothers who reported this issue to Marcus Rashford – and I’m sure Marcus wouldn’t want it either. According toi the Independent today, “Electoral Commission records show Paul Walsh – chairman of Compass … down to last month – has given more than £10,000 to the Tory party”.

    Compass has numerous government contracts, including via its subsidiary Medirest. Medirest has also had a bad press. Its cleaning and catering staff went on strike in 2010, demanding back pay that had been owed to them since 2006, and in 2019 over “poor wages and what they said is overbearing management and a heavy workload.”

    Another subsidiary is Eurest Support Services, who were embroiled in allegations of corruption after receiving confidential bid information to supply UN peacekeepers in West Africa. Andy Seiwert, a senior executive at Eurest, was accused of meeting with a member of the UN procurement department Alexander Yakolev, who later pled guilty to corruption charges. Another UN diplomat, Vladimir Kuznetsov, was accused of receiving $1m in bribes from groups including Compass and found guilty of other charges relating to the case.

    It will take freedom of information requests to find out how competitive the tender was for Chartwell UK to win the contractfor free school meals. Whether it was granted fairly or not, or fast-tracked, it has again the failure of the government’s procurement process. The Mansfield Tory MP Ben Bradley may view meal vouchers as “a £20 direct debit to a crack den or a brothel” (The Independent, 31/12/20), but research by the University of Oxford shows that direct cash transfers to those in need are primarily spent on food.

  • Phil Beesley 13th Jan '21 - 8:51pm

    David Raw: “It will take freedom of information requests to find out how competitive the tender was for Chartwell UK to win the contractfor free school meals.”

    Not really. Chartwell UK were a supplier of mass food in an institutional way. The company’s ability to buy baked beans in barrels qualified the firm to supply canteens.

    Other people might get a better price for baked beans in an eight ounce tin for kids. But who cares.

    If you want to feed kids on a limited budget, you’d ask people accustomed to four or eight ounce cans to sort it out. But that is obvious.

  • @ Phil Beesley How else would you get access to the details of competitors tenders ?

    I’m afraid your comment, “But who cares”, says it all.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Jan '21 - 8:40am

    The Conservatives feel the same way about the NHS. The NHS should not be a political football. Children are not political football’s either.
    Take MPs and MPs wives off Committees within the NHS, and involve the Community. I know of one retired specialist locally.
    I’m tired of this Government’s opinionated responses. They were voted in, not to destroy for the 4 years they have.

  • Daniel Walker 14th Jan '21 - 9:28am

    @David Raw “Enthusiasts for UBI would be wise not to include such as Walsh amongst their beneficiaries and to ward him the same amount as the mothers who reported this issue to Marcus Rashford

    David, I believe we have discussed this before. Any UBI scheme would include tax increases which would exceed the UBI payment for anyone earning as much as Walsh¹ does. He would not be better off. People in the top decile would be looking at a decrease in weekly income of at least 7.5% (Torry, 2020, table 8)

    research by the University of Oxford shows that direct cash transfers to those in need are primarily spent on food.

    UBI is a direct cash transfer to those in need; it also eliminates the humiliating and by definition imperfect means tests which miss people.

  • @ Daniel Walker Thank you for that clarification, Daniel. Could you provide me with a link to the fine detail of the policy, please ?

    Perhaps you would also like to comment on the report on UBI by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation :
    ‘Universal Basic Income – Joseph Rowntree Foundationwww.jrf.org.uk › search Between announcement of the UK and Scottish Budgets, JRF published … Universal Basic Income will increase poverty – unless modified beyond recognition’.

  • Daniel Walker 14th Jan '21 - 10:52am

    @David Raw “Could you provide me with a link to the fine detail of the policy, please ?

    I did: https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/research/publications/working-papers/euromod/em7-20.pdf

    From the JRF article:

    So, a central problem is that advocates of UBI either unconsciously or wilfully fail to acknowledge that the current system is designed to provide specific payments for people in specific circumstances (e.g. caring, disability, high housing costs, high childcare costs). If you sweep all of that away, you either have to level up, giving a massive boost to people without those specific needs (at huge cost), or you create a fall in income for those with them. Neither is remotely acceptable in any real world.

    There are many versions of UBI. Dr Torry’s proposals (which postdate the JRF article), in common with all the plausible ones I have seen, do not include removal of housing or carer’s benefit¹, and more resemble the ‘“modified” UBI schemes by Compass’ mentioned by the JRF.

    Table 7 includes the expected reduction in poverty. (I will grant that Dr Torry quoting predictions to two decimal places seems an optimistic level of precision!)

    It’s not perfect. But the net cost to the exchequer is £26m (basically nil. I could stand a larger cost to ensure no-one in the bottom 25% was worse off, myself); 70% of households would be better off; it retains the essential feature of universality, and lack of “lag time” between need and first payment that is an unavoidable issue with means-tested benefits.

    1. although it would result in a 30% (table 6) reduction in total cost of means-tested benefits as, for example, some people would not need as much Income Support if the UBI was in place. I would suggest that removal of the “perverse incentives” in some of the means-tested benefits at the same time would be needed, but whatever happens that should be done – see bottom of table 5 for why this is neccessary)

  • @ Daniel Walker Thank you, Daniel. I’ll give it my full attention. Nothing would please me more than if it was credible.

  • Daniel Walker 14th Jan '21 - 12:13pm

    @David Raw

    Thank you, too. It may still be a difficult sell—the headline tax rises sound scary—but that doesn’t, in my view, mean the basic principle is wrong.

  • ………..Schools in England told not to provide free school meals at half-term………….

    After the recent furore it seems the government learns nothing and cares even less…”Shameless” is the word that comes to mind; although, I’m awaiting the U-turn

  • @ expats “Schools in England told not to provide free school meals at half-term”.

    Yes, announced press today. What a contrast with Scotland where the Scottish Government had announced two days ago that free school meals will be provided in the February half-term and in the Easter holidays.

    No doubt young Marcus will telephone Boris , and as you say, there will be a screeching of the hand brake and a U turn after the few days of dithering as per usual. The departure of the Cabinet’s Private Pike, Gavin Williamson, would also be welcome.

    No wonder Johnson is a threat to the Union. A recent (Ipsos) poll showed just 19% of the Scottish public feel Johnson is handling the pandemic well, whilst 62% feel he is handling it badly.

  • PS Talking of Scotland, I see that in the last hour Richard Leonard has quit as the Scottish Labour Leader in Holyrood.

  • @ expats Didn’t need a crystal ball for this :

    Marcus Rashford calls on PM for wider free school meal review
    By Jennifer Scott
    Online political reporter, BBC News Published56 minutes ago

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