A bag of sliced bread. A packet of slices of cheese. Two potatoes. Two carrots. Two bananas. Three apples. A can of black beans. A pack of macaroni. A tomato. Two energy bars. And three sachets of liquid yogurt. A child's school lunch in the UK for five days. Or the photo of shame. It was posted on Twitter by a mother who signed under the account @RoadsideMum and it has ended up being the cover of several newspapers. "These images are scandalous, shameful and an insult to the families who have received these packages," said Boris Johnson this Wednesday in the House of Commons. He responded to the leader of the Labor opposition, Keir Starmer, who asked the most obvious question to many citizens: "Would you be happy feeding your children that way?"
During those moments, throughout the pandemic, in which schools have had to remain closed, as is currently the case, the British Government has had a hesitant response when it comes to guaranteeing free school breakfast and lunch to the neediest students. He did it in the first wave, but withdrew the measure when summer vacation came. Only the intense social media campaign of Marcus Rashford, the West Indian-born Manchester United footballer, managed to get Downing Street to rectify.
The problem with a government often confused by the severity of the crisis and its own misunderstood liberal ideology is that it responds to urgencies with mixed responses, and runs the risk of appearing as Charles Dickens's Mr. Scrooge. At the time, the Ministry of Education offered schools a double alternative: to directly supply low-income students with weekly food packages, or to redirect them to social services to obtain coupons that can be exchanged at large supermarket chains. Each school would receive, as established, about four euros per week per child. The vouchers, however, would be 17 euros per week. The Government encouraged the centers to prioritize the package alternative, which in many cases was an outsourced service.
Chartwells, the school catering company that has ended up in the eye of the hurricane, has already apologized and has promised to return the money received. They assure that the photo represented the five-day diet, and that the value of the set was, added the food, the packaging and the distribution, about 12 euros. “We are very sorry that the amount was so small in this specific case. We typically include a wide variety of nutritious foods for school lunches, ”said a company spokesperson. The chairman of Compass Group, the parent company that also encompasses prepared food delivery services, is a well-known Conservative Party donor.
The networks have been filled with photos of users with the packages they had received, each one more impoverished. But this new crisis facing the Johnson administration reflects more than an anecdote, because most of the products thrown into public debate are, in fact, those that are served daily in school canteens. The surprise comes when they all appear together and their quality and quantity are betrayed. With the 12 euros that, according to Chartwells, the package that has caused the social unrest is worth, many users have shown that they could buy many more and more nutritious products. Someone, it is the general deduction, is taking an extraordinary benefit.
In a new swerve, like the many made already during the crisis, the Johnson government has announced that it will withdraw from Monday its recommendation to prioritize food packages, to establish in exchange a general rule of coupons redeemable for families .