Sat, 16 Jan 2021
West Berkshire Council’s ruling Conservatives have hit back at claims that children entitled to free school meals are being given “woefully inadequate” food parcels and assured parents that schools will continue to support families in need throughout the lockdown.
Earlier this week Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Newbury Lee Dillon called for parents to be given vouchers after pictures of sub-standard food parcels sent to children at home sparked outrage on social media.
But West Berkshire Council executive member for children and young people Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston) said there was “no evidence” that families in the district had received the inadequate parcels.
Mr Boeck also addressed the issue, after an emergency question was put forward by Erik Pattenden (Lib Dems, Greenham), at Thursday’s meeting of the district council’s Executive.
In his response Mr Boeck said: “Few of us can have missed the current publicity about plainly sub-standard food parcels sent to children at home who are entitled to free school meals.
“Images posted online on Monday quickly became widely shared by mainstream media yesterday and I asked our education service to brief me on the situation here in West Berkshire.
“I think we can agree that all our children, at home and at school, need and deserve good wholesome food that is both nutritious and enough and I wanted to be sure that this is what they are being given.
“I think we all understand that schools and their catering contractors had to mobilise quickly, following the announcement on Monday, January 4, that schools would move to remote learning for the majority of children the following day.”
He told newburytoday that he was “determined that children who are entitled to free school meals are given food of the right quality while they are learning at home”.
“Schools and their governors are responsible for school meals and they have the freedom to decide on the best approach for their pupils. If there are any problems we are ready to support them,” he added. “Over Christmas we distributed 3,600 food vouchers to make sure children at home had enough. We have asked all our schools if they would like us to provide them with vouchers until the Department for Education relaunch their scheme.
“We have already bought further vouchers to be given out during February half term.”
Schools will continue to receive their expected funding for benefits-related free school meals throughout this lockdown period.
The current funding for schools to cover the additional cost for pupils at home is up to £3.50 per eligible pupil, per week, where lunch parcels are being provided, or up to £15 per eligible pupil, per week, where vouchers for local shops or supermarkets are being provided.
Mr Boeck said he was keen to hear from anyone who has evidence of local children being given inadequate meals.