'Shocked and saddened' at so-called food parcels for children

Michael Caines is backing a campaign for a rethink on food parcels sent to families to feed their children

Michael Caines is backing a campaign for a rethink on food parcels sent to families to feed their children - Credit: Contributed

Michael Caines on East Devon and beyond

I want to use this week’s column to express how shocked, appalled and saddened I am by some of the images we have seen recently of so-called food parcels being sent to impoverished families.

In some cases, the taxpayer has funded free school meal hampers supposedly worth around £30, and meant to last for 10 days, which have been estimated to contain no more than £6 worth of items.

In one incident the ‘parcel’ was delivered in a bin bag. Not only that, the nutritional value of the ingredients is woeful. How can this be happening? It’s 2021 not 1821! 

This is nothing short of a scandal.

According to official pre-pandemic figures, about 1.4 million children in England are on free school meals. Some estimates suggest as many as 900,000 more children may have been registered since March as a result of family incomes being hit hard by the Covid crisis.

And you only have to have read this newspaper in the past few months to get a feel for how big this problem is.

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I’ve never before seen so many stories about food banks and community initiatives to feed those struggling to make ends meet.

It would appear that a lot of ordinary people are recognising, and doing more to tackle the problem, than the government.

Well done to them.

I also, once again, take my hat off to Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford for highlighting this latest issue.

I’d like to bring attention to a recent open letter which calls on the Government to undertake an urgent comprehensive review of Free School Meal policy to reform the system for the longer term.

The letter, a full version of which can be found on the Food Foundation website, says: “We know that all political parties agree on the outcome that we are aiming for – ensuring that all children have access to enough healthy, good quality food to fulfil their potential.

“Last Autumn, the Government announced several very positive new measures to help combat child hunger, and we strongly welcomed those announcements.
“Despite these positive commitments, we strongly feel that now (following the series of problems which have arisen over school food vouchers, holiday provision and food parcels since the start of the pandemic) is the right moment for you to step back and review the policy in more depth.

“This would allow the Government to provide strong national leadership on children’s food so that our nation’s most disadvantaged children and their families, already disproportionately impacted by Covid- 19, don't continue to bear the brunt. In the first lockdown (March-August), 2.3 million children experienced food insecurity and during the 2020 summer holidays 850,000 children reported that they or their families visited a food bank. Free School Meals are a very important part of the safety net that protects children from impoverished families from hunger and poor nutrition.”

“We believe the review should be debated in Parliament and published before the 2021 summer holidays.”

You can read the full letter, which has been signed by health, experts, campaigners and some of my fellow celebrity chefs, here: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/For-the-Attention-of-PM-Boris-Johnson-pdf.pdf

This issue should also serve as a stark reminder for those of us who are not facing such struggles just how lucky we are to be able to put food on the table.

None of us are enjoying the best that life can offer during this crisis but I cannot imagine how seeing your own children going hungry must feel.

Following the outcry, a government spokesperson said: “The prime minister has been clear that no child will ever go hungry as a result of the pandemic”.

Well, as they say, talk is cheap.I would urge you to contact your own MP and demand that they do something about this appalling neglect of impoverished young people

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