food bank

@UKLabour today (13 Jan) reveals that the Government’s own guidance on what should be in food parcels is strikingly similar to images circulating on social media in recent days – with less than a 50p daily difference.

It comes as the party steps up pressure for the Government to ensure families are getting the full value of Free School Meals support.

Ministers have described images circulating in recent days as “completely unacceptable.”

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, told the Education Select Committee that “it will not be tolerated we will not live with that.”

But research from Labour suggests that the packages aren’t as far removed from Government guidance as ministers are suggesting. 

Guidance written by the Department for Education and pointed to from suggests “general principles for putting together” parcels. And the similarities between them and the images circulating are striking.

The key items missing are two ‘tins of meat’, a litre of milk and a tin of sweetcorn.

A leading UK supermarket prices this at about 47p of food a day.

This doesn’t include items that are not in the guidance but in the picture, such as Soreen and pasta. 

Widely shared image on social media

Government guidance

1 x loaf of bread

1 x loaf of bread

2 x potatoes

2 x potatoes

1 x tomato

3 x tomatoes

5 x portions of fruit

5 x portions of fruit

? x cheese portions

3 x cheese portions

1 x tin of baked beans

1 x tin of baked beans

3 x yoghurts

3 x individual serving yoghurt pots

1 x bag of pasta

1 x cucumber

2 x packets Soreen

1 x tin sweetcorn

2 x carrots

1 x bottle milk


2 x tin of meat

Tulip Siddiq 100x100Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Children and Early Years Minister, said:

“The images that have been circulating on social media are shameful. But these revelations about the Government’s own guidance means that ministers’ newfound concern rings hollow. A couple of tins and a bottle of milk isn’t the difference between acceptable or unacceptable.

“The Government's response has yet again been far too slow, with national food vouchers only becoming available from next week - two weeks after schools moved to remote learning. 

“Children are going hungry now - this cannot wait.”

Suggested FSM parcel content

Estimated price (Tesco)

1 loaf of bread or pack of rolls / 10-inch wraps

Bread: £0.36

2 baking potatoes


1 cucumber


3 large tomatoes or 1 pack of cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes £0.48

1 standard tin sweetcorn in water


5 portions of fresh fruit (e.g. apples, satsumas, bananas) 

or 3 portions of fresh fruit and 1 tin fruit in juice (e.g. pears, peaches, fruit cocktail)

Pack of pears: £0.57, apples: £0.79

2 items from the following: 1 pack sliced cooked meat (e.g. chicken, ham or vegetarian alternative) 

or 1 tin meat 

or 1 tin tuna in water 

or 6 eggs

Ham: £0.86

Tuna: £0.59

Eggs: £0.70

200g block of cheese or 3 cheese portions


1 tin baked beans


1 500g pot plain low-fat yoghurt or 3 individual serving yoghurt pots

1 500g £0.90

1 litre / 2 pints semi-skimmed milk



£6.78 - £7.27

Labour demands urgent action with food parcels to prevent children going hungry again 

Labour is demanding urgent government action to prevent children going hungry throughout lockdown after images circulated on social media show inadequate quantities of food being given to families. 

Labour is calling for Ministers to urgently restart the national food vouchers scheme, which operated during the first national lockdown and helped ensure families were getting the full value of Free School Meals support. 

Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years Tulip Siddiq MP has written (12 Jan) to Minister Vicky Ford calling on the Department for Education to urgently investigate the images.

Tulip states that: “Around 200,000 children were forced to skip meals at the height of the first lockdown – under no circumstances can this be allowed to happen again. Yet the images circulating online suggest that your Government has not learnt from the mistakes made during the first lockdown.” 

Labour is calling on the government to set out:

  • the results of the Department for Education’s investigation into the cases raised on social media, explaining why some families are receiving inadequate food support?
  • what progress has been made on restarting the national voucher scheme?
  • why national guidance states schools can only able to claim up to £3.50 in additional funding for food parcels, compared to £15 additional funding for vouchers?
  • the steps the Department is taking to sure that money provided for free school meals is not being wasted,
  • a list of the stakeholders consulted over the new guidance for free school meals during lockdown. 

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said: 

“The images of food parcels circulating on social media are shameful. No child should go hungry in lockdown and the government must urgently explain how this has been allowed to happen. 

“Around 200,000 children were forced to skip meals at the height of the first lockdown, this cannot happen again. 

“I am meeting the Children's Minister tomorrow to demand action and the immediate rollout of the national voucher scheme for free school meals.” 

LGA statement: Free school meal food parcels

Responding to reports of inadequate food parcels being received by some families of children on free school meals during the latest national lockdown, Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Commercial providers must work with schools and councils where necessary to ensure that food parcels are of a high standard, meet nutritional needs and are enough for individuals and families. It has undoubtedly been challenging for them to switch from providing meals in school to delivering them remotely to families at short notice, but it is extremely concerning if contractors in some areas are failing to meet basic standards.

“Ensuring vulnerable pupils are provided for is a top priority for councils with many delivering high quality food boxes in partnership with schools. It is right that they have the choice between vouchers and food boxes based on local needs and providers.

“With many households likely to be economically vulnerable for some time, it is vital that councils have long-term sustainable funding to address food poverty and other underlying causes of hardship and disadvantage, and provide support to all households who need it.”

Commenting on criticism of the food parcels that have been sent to some families, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: 

"For most families, food parcels are less helpful than vouchers. Vouchers give families the flexibility to shop for items that that they can actually use to make meals at home.

"The government has confirmed that schools can use local voucher schemes and that they will be reimbursed in full if they do. That is an important change from last time.

"The huge problems with the national voucher system last year may have put schools and families off using it. It is therefore important that the government demonstrates these problems have been fully rectified.

"The most important thing is to get food into the homes of those who need it. We are already a week into the national lockdown and so this cannot happen quickly enough, otherwise children will go hungry.” 

Andrea Cowans, Director of Student Life at Luminate Education Group;

"It’s imperative that eligible students are provided with healthy, substantial and nutritious food which is good value for money, but instead, they have been left disappointed. There is an urgent need for improvement for these hampers; having access to nourishing food will help students to feel healthy, motivated and engaged. 

"Providing students and families with the freedom to choose their meals appears to be effective. At Luminate Education Group, we send eligible students two weeks’ worth of vouchers each fortnight to spend in a supermarket of their choice. It’s important to pair the freedom of choice with knowledge on food, so our students’ union regularly runs food forums to discuss budgeting and the quality of different food and we run a programme of events to help students eat healthily.

"Although the government funds free school meals, more needs to be done to ensure our students don’t go hungry and have access to a balanced diet. We’ve recently launched a Food Umbrella campaign, pulling together and promoting a range of food initiatives from across the group including food banks, breakfast clubs, food programmes and food ambassadors who promote healthy eating throughout our colleges. There’s also an opportunity to tap into the food waste from big corporations and local businesses - a unified approach is needed."

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford responds:

“The photos being shared on social media today are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we expect to be sent to children.

“Chartwells has rightly apologised and admitted the parcel in question was not good enough. I met their Managing Director earlier today and he has assured me they have taken immediate action to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels. They will ensure schools affected are compensated and they will provide additional food to the eligible child in line with our increased funding. 

“In the meantime, Government will be demanding that all caterers meet the standards set and are delivering high quality lunches they are providing to eligible children – by doing this we will make sure every one of them receives a healthy and nutritious lunch that will give them the fuel they need to focus on learning at home.

“We will set out further details tomorrow.”


  • We are also ensuring schools can arrange local vouchers schemes for parents and reimbursing schools where they choose this approach up to a value of £15 per pupil per week. Reimbursed costs will be backdated to 4 January where schools were asked to close to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers.
  • Headteachers and schools know their communities best so we want them to have the freedom to take an approach that works best for their families.
  • Schools will be able to order from the national voucher scheme from Monday 18 January.  
  • School food contracts are carried out by individual schools, Multi Academy Trusts and local authorities with a range of companies. The Department does not oversee nor offer a central contract to any food supplier.
  • Should a school become concerned about the standard of lunches being provided by their supplier they should speak to whoever holds the contract with the supplier. Contracts are agreed between suppliers and the contract holder – whether that be the school directly, local authorities or multi-academy trust and so they are best placed to know the whether the supplier is meeting the terms they agreed to.
  • Any parent concerned about the standards of their free school meal parcel should speak directly with their school or educational setting.

Full text of Tulip Siddiq’s letter to Vicky Ford MP

Dear Vicky,

Re: Food support for children during lockdown

We have all been shocked by the appalling images being circulated on social media of woefully inadequate food parcels being delivered to schoolchildren during lockdown.

The Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on family budgets, and parents are being forced to rely on foodbanks at an unprecedented scale. The sad result is that there were over two million children living in households with food insecurity at the end of last year. With the hardship of another lockdown, more parents losing their jobs, and the government only weeks away from cutting £20 a week from the budgets of millions of families, this is likely to worsen.

Around 200,000 children were forced to skip meals at the height of the first lockdown – under no circumstances can this be allowed to happen again. Yet the images circulating online suggest that your Government has not learnt from the mistakes made during the first lockdown. 

I would therefore be grateful if you could provide answers to the following questions: 

  • What are the results of the Department for Education’s investigation into the cases raised on social media, and what explanation can you give for why some families are receiving food packages well below what is necessary to ensure no child goes hungry?  
  • What progress has been made on restarting the national voucher scheme, and why wasn’t this scheme in place in time for the closure of schools? 
  • The Government’s guidance ‘strongly encourage[s]’ schools to provide food parcels to pupils at home – why does the same guidance suggest that schools can only able to claim up to £3.50 in additional funding for food parcels, compared to £15 for vouchers? 
  • Will you confirm that food parcels are required to meet the official school food standards, and explain the steps you are taking to enforce these standards? 
  • How is the Government making sure that money provided for free school meals is not being wasted, and will you be monitoring how this food support is being provided? 
  • Will you set out who was consulted over the new guidance for free school meals during lockdown? 

Last week you promised to restart the national voucher scheme for free school meals in England, yet there has been no sign of progress on this so far. This should have been in place when schools moved to online learning, and I urge you to set this up as a matter of urgency. You will remember that many parents struggled to access these vouchers and redeem them in stores during the first lockdown, and you must ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. 

Throughout this pandemic, the Government has been far too slow to act. Children must not now be forced to bear the brunt of the Government’s incompetence and inertia. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely,

Tulip Siddiq MP

Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years

Guidance for schools and local authorities on school meals arrangements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.


Providing school meals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak


Coronavirus (COVID-19): temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups


Sample free school meals application form for NRPF groups

MS Word Document, 33.2KB


This guidance explains what schools should do when providing school meals during the national lockdown.

Schools should provide meal options for all pupils who are in school, including vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. Meals should be available free of charge to:

  • all infant pupils
  • pupils who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria

Published 19 March 2020 
Last updated 13 January 2021 + show all updates

  1. Updated information about how to order vouchers, sending eCodes to families, supermarkets and redeeming the vouchers.

  2. Updated the guidance to include information on the support available to schools during the national lockdown.

  3. We have added information on support for clinically extremely vulnerable pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals, the Covid Winter Grant Scheme and the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme. We have also updated the content on school food contracts.

  4. Added link to guidance on free school meals from the Lead Association for Catering in Education.

  5. Updated the guidance on the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups. This update removes references to the Covid Summer Food Fund and COVID-19 specific terminology.

  6. Updated information on school food from September 2020, universal infant free school meals, additional costs incurred before summer 2020, school food contracts and free school meals eligibility. Also includes guidance on providing water in school and support for pupils who have to stay at home due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

  7. Updated guidance and application form for the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups. This includes the increase in the income threshold from £16,190 per annum to £31,500 per annum for London and £28,200 for areas outside of London.

  8. Updated application form and guidance on the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups. This is to reflect the change in annual household income threshold to £16,190 after tax.

  9. We have added Company Shop Group and Iceland, including The Food Warehouse Stores, to the list of supermarkets you can order eGift cards for.

  10. Added further information on the Covid Summer Food Fund, free meals in further education, the final ordering timescales for the national voucher scheme, ordering vouchers in multiples of £5, and an update on school food contracts to include further guidance from the Cabinet Office on Procurement Policy Note 04/20.

  11. Updated information about providing meals for pupils attending school, the national voucher scheme and providing meals or food parcels through your food provider.

  12. Updated information about claiming for additional costs, providing meals or food parcels through your food provider and ordering vouchers to cover multiple weeks.

  13. Added Aldi and McColl’s to the list of supermarkets taking part in the national voucher scheme.

  14. Added a link to the 16 to 19 free meals in further education guidance and information about Aldi joining the national voucher scheme.

  15. Updated information about school food contracts and free school meal eligibility. Added guidance and a sample application form on the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups.

  16. Added guidance about free school meal support over the Easter holidays.

  17. Added guidance on school food contracts and the national voucher scheme, including how to order. Also added a question and answer section.

  18. Added information for parents about scams.

  19. First published.

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