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Private firm causes weeks of delay to free school meal vouchers: bring it back in-house!
Lindsey Morgan, Leicester Socialist Party
I rely on free school meal vouchers to feed my daughter. They were due Monday 20 April and didn't arrive until that Thursday.
The Department for Education has a national scheme, using the global private company Edenred, which is supposed to supply free school meal vouchers to low-income families during the coronavirus crisis to feed our children. Some 1.3 million children are entitled to these vouchers.
Instead, some families are having to wait weeks before they get a code emailed to them. Then they have to wait up to an hour online to redeem it on the Edenred website. Only then will they be sent a voucher - up to 24 hours later.
Teachers up and down the country have been contacted by exasperated parents, many of whom have gone without food themselves, to find out why they haven't been emailed their e-codes. Teachers trying to chase this up with Edenred have faced a website plagued with technical issues and a helpline which puts them on lengthy holds.
My own wait for vouchers was infuriating, but fortunately my home was stocked with enough food for four days. Others have faced waits of over a month, with a close family friend not receiving vouchers for two primary school-aged children until four weeks after they were due.
They were advised by their children's school that there wasn't any more they could do, and it was an issue with Edenred. Some teachers were only able to access the Edenred website after staying up till gone one in the morning when the site had less traffic.
As many as 800,000 pupils are waiting on at least one weekly voucher, according to industry magazine Schools Week. With the codes issued weekly, parents are having to face this hassle every single week.
It means trekking children to the supermarket each week, because the codes can't be used for online shopping. This also means lugging it back on the bus, with kids, for many low-income families without a car.
The scheme is not fit for purpose. It has resulted in hunger and further deprivation for some of the most vulnerable. The foodbanks are stretched to breaking point, with families unable to access enough food through these too.
Yet again a private company, meant to be providing a service for vulnerable people, has failed to do its job - while still getting a handsome government contract pay-out. This service should be taken out of the hands of this parasitical company.
The government should instead arrange for local authorities to make sure children get the food they need. In fact, councils should step in and fill the gap immediately, using reserves and borrowing powers, and bill the government.
The school meals service should no longer be run by private companies, now or after the Covid-19 crisis. It must be brought back in-house, into local public ownership, and under the democratic control of workers and service users. Enough with private companies taking our money and screwing things up!
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