East Renfrewshire Council 'fell short' on school meal parcels

By Chris Clements
Social affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

image copyrightChris Boyle
image captionPictures of food parcels delivered to families in East Renfrewshire were shared online

A Scottish council has accepted its standards fell short after complaints over its free school meals delivered to families during lockdown.

East Renfrewshire Council came under fire this week after pictures emerged of its weekly food parcels.

A single mother-of-two - who lost her job last year - took photographs which were shared on social media.

She told BBC Scotland's The Nine the offerings were "inadequate" to feed a child for a week.

She said the latest parcel, delivered on Monday, included out-of-date bread rolls.

The package also included a tin of tuna, a tin of sweetcorn and cheese slices.

In England there was an outcry earlier this week over pictures of food packages to replace free school meals during the lockdown.

While schools in Scotland are closed, councils have been providing free meals to pupils at home.

However, it is understood East Renfrewshire is one of only two local authorities in Scotland that are not offering voucher or cash alternatives to food deliveries during stricter lockdown restrictions.

A spokesman said the council has delivered more than 36,000 free school meal packs since March 2020.

He said: "In the small number of cases that the quality of the food packs has fallen short, we have worked as quickly as possible to rectify these issues.

"We took a decision back in March 2020 that the approach of providing meal packs was more beneficial for the majority of families as it ensured that nutritious food was provided and will continue to keep this situation under review."

The council added that the packs are put together by staff and are "designed in consultation with nutritionists to ensure they are as close to the Scottish government's health guidelines as possible".

image copyrightPA Media
image captionFootballer Marcus Rashford has spearheaded a campaign to tackle holiday hunger

East Ayrshire Council also said it would continue to only offer food parcels for free school meals.

A spokeswoman said: "Since 2005, the council has supported local suppliers and by continuing to offer direct food boxes to our children and young people we are maintaining spend with our local producers and businesses.

Earlier this week, Glasgow City Council announced it would introduce fortnightly £25 cash payments per child.

Commenting on the issue on Wednesday, Education Secretary John Swinney told MSPs: "A key point that underpins the Scottish government's policies on family support is the recognition that direct financial assistance and control for families is one of the strongest mechanisms that can be deployed to tackle poverty and ensure that families can make their own judgments."

In England, an open letter signed by footballer Marcus Rashford, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and 40 non-governmental organisations has called for an urgent review into the quality of free school meals being provided during lockdown.