The Hunger Games – UK style

food parcel handed out for Free School Meals, 11Jan2020


Take a good look at the above picture. Count the items, realise what they are.

And now come up with a meal plan using above ingredients, and nothing else, that provides 10 lunches for one school kid. No, seriously; one meal a day, five days a week, for two weeks.

Struggling somewhat? Yeah, me too, and just about everyone else who has seen this.

This is the reality of the current government’s Free School Meals. The schools are closed, but about 2.3m kids in England alone are now in need of free school lunches, usually provided during term time. Last October, the Conservatives showed their true colours when they voted down an amendment to extend the FSM scheme throughout the holiday period until Easter 2021. Because, disadvantaged kids only need lunch when they are in school, apparently, not when they are stuck at home due to a pandemic. Thankfully, after a massive public outcry, and a campaign run by footballer Marcus Rashford, the government U-turned and continued to provide FSMs. Now that the schools are closed, again, parents are given food parcels, put together and distributed by either local authorities or private companies. They are supposed to contain food worth £15 per weekly delivery (or £30 for a fortnight), same as the vouchers that were available during the summer term.

So the questions becomes: In what world does this represent £30 worth of food?

More importantly:


It’s not just the callousness of the Tories of denying FSM in the first place that gets to me. And no, the arguments brought forward in October don’t hold water. No one is abusing the system; kids receive free school lunches because they are poor. Not by choice, but by circumstance. Circumstance caused by ten years of Tory austerity.

What really does it is their utter lack of human decency. I would like to see just one of the tossers who voted against the scheme trying to prepare lunch for just one of their kids using what’s available in this “food” parcel. And then tell me again how generous the government has been. This is a slap in the face of all parents trying to provide for their kids to the best of their abilities. And it is a fucking shame!

The above tweet was published on Monday and is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Just scroll through the replies, and you won’t believe your eyes. As the OP and others pointed out, you can get all of the stuff in the picture for about £5 at your local grocery store. Having said that, you will also find examples of how much one can really get in groceries for £30, usually when put together by the school or the council. Or even better, when bought direct in the supermarkets.

After the pictures went viral overnight, the issue became a topic in Prime Minister’s Question on Wednesday. Boris Johnson managed to fake some affectation of shock by calling it “disgraceful,” which was the cue for the opposition’s Keir Starmer to wipe the floor with him. It is worth quoting the Labour leader:

“From the government’s Department of Education, example parcel for one child for five days: 1 loaf of bread, 2 baked potatoes, a block of cheese, baked beans, 3 yoghurts. Sound familiar? That’s the images, Prime Minister, you just called disgraceful.”

(For the full exchange, go here. The interesting bit starts at 13:56.)

At which point Johnson completely lost the plot, accused Starmer of being against the vaccination programme, and had to be reprimanded by the Speaker. Don’t worry, nobody understood what FSM has to do with the vaccinations. Typical Johnson; never mind. Immediately after PMQs, the Department updated its online guidance – the original “example parcel” document Starmer quoted from is no longer available. At least someone in Whitehall understands the concept of damage control. But that’s all it is.

As a side note: The private company Chartwell’s responsible for above “food” parcel belongs to the Compass Group, the same PLC that was involved in bribery while supplying the UN, overcharging NYC schools for meals, food-poisoning Canadian prison inmates and serving horse meat in Irish and English schools. What do all these things have in common? Profit. As does this example. If you can get £30 from the government and supply £5 worth of food instead, you make £25 every two weeks. Multiply that by a few hundred thousand parcels, and you’re golden. Sure, in the grand scheme it’s peanuts, but this is a pandemic; every penny counts. Obviously.