Images of free-school-meal-substitute “hampers” flooded across social media in mid-January, and very quickly the story was picked up by the mainstream media.
Tweeter @RoadsideMum had received her “hamper” as the parent of two children. Supposedly enough to last ten days, it wouldn’t have sustained a hungry teenager for more than about fifteen minutes.
Other families started to photograph their “hampers”. Half a tomato wrapped in cellophane. Half a tin of tuna in a money bag.
Chartwells bill the government £30 per hamper. A quick trip to Asda online priced the contents at slightly under £5.50. Chartwells won’t be paying supermarket prices, and this isn’t food destined for supermarkets. The best-before date on the bread was Nov 2021. I’m not a nutritionist, but I’d put £30 on that bread having less nutritional value than my kid’s plimsolls.
Chartwells are owned by Compass, a larger tax-dodging, soul-stealing company that specialise in corporate grub rip-offs. They supply food already to the NHS and the military, so maybe that’s why they got the free school meals gig. And then there’s the generous gift of £10,000 by Paul Walsh, chair of Compass, to the Conservatives in 2016.
@RoadsideMum called Chartwells out. Support came in from across the world within hours; but she is also a working-class woman who has been vilified by sections of the press and swathes of bigots online.
History is full of women who did not capture the tone or a mood, or write well enough to interest consumers of a wider social justice discourse. But we don’t have the time to wait for the next kids’ food hero.
Outsourcing has failed again. Local authorities have a moral responsibility to do right by children during this pandemic and after. And school workers in their unions must take up the fight with communities so that all children deserve decent food. Thanks @RoadsideMum!