Celebrities and chefs call for 'urgent' FSM shake-up

Shadow education secretary Kate Green calls on Gavin Williamson to resign over free school meals controversy
15th January 2021, 10:04am
Amy Gibbons


Celebrities and chefs call for 'urgent' FSM shake-up

Free School Meals: Marcus Rashford & Celebrities Have Called For An Urgent Review Of Fsm Policy

Top chefs and celebrities have joined forces to call for an urgent review of the government's policy on free school meals.

On Thursday, England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford joined with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the actress Dame Emma Thompson to press ministers to develop a strategy that could help end child food poverty.

In a letter to the prime minister, backed by more than 40 NGOs, charities and education leaders, Mr Rashford welcomed the "robustness" of his response to the "inadequate" meal parcels being provided by some private companies.

FAO @10DowningStreet @educationgovuk #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY https://t.co/3T4BBhAjjJ pic.twitter.com/ldIyyDxmPx

- Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 14, 2021

However, the letter said that after a series of problems - including over vouchers and the holiday provision of meals - had arisen during the pandemic, it was the right time to "step back and review the policy in more depth".

Holiday hunger: No free school meals at half-term 'is astonishing'

ControversySchools left to pick up the pieces over 'inadequate' parcels for FSM pupils

Free school meals: 'Here we go again': Schools report fresh Edenred issues

Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Kate Green has called on education secretary Gavin Williamson to resign following the latest row over free school meals provision.

Free school meals: Call for parents to be given cash for food

The government was forced to U-turn on a policy of providing food goods instead of cash or vouchers when images of boxes containing just £4 or £5 worth of food, instead of the promised £30, were shared online, sparking a public outcry.

When asked if she thought it was time for the education secretary to quit, Ms Green told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "Yes, I am going to say that, because I think patience has completely run out with Gavin Williamson and I do think it is time for him to go.

"Our children's future, our children's education, our children's wellbeing is too important to be left in the hands of someone who plainly isn't up to the job and I think it's time for him to go."

It is the first time Ms Green has called directly for Mr Williamson to quit.

She was heavily critical of his handling of GCSE and A-level results over the summer - when thousands of students' grades were downgraded based on predictions by an algorithm - but at the time urged him to "take responsibility" for the crisis rather than leave the government.

The Labour Party has called for the government to trust parents and give them cash directly for free school meals instead of vouchers.

Families should receive £15 a week for each child eligible for free school meals directly through the benefits system, the party said.

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Children going hungry while schools are closed to most children has been yet another failing of a government that keeps letting families down.

"Our social security system should be a safety net but it has far too many holes in it. Giving cash directly to families would support parents in making the best choices on how to look after their children during an unprecedented crisis."

The government's free school meals policy sparked a further backlash yesterday when the DfE published new guidance stating that schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term because pupils benefit from the Covid Winter Grant Scheme (CWGS) outside of term time.

The NEU teaching union said this was "astonishing", arguing that the move showed that the government had a "total disregard for those hardest hit by the Covid pandemic". 

A government spokesperson said: "As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half-term via councils through the £170 million CWGS launched last year.

"Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we've made available."

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