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Latest 12 January 2021

Private companies maximise profits as the young and the vulnerable suffer

You will have seen the shocking photos of the food being provided to children on free school meals who are stuck at home during the current lockdown.

The provision of these meals was contracted out – in this case to Chartwells, a company owned by the catering giant Compass Group. They, as you would expect, argue that the photos in question do not represent what they (optimistically) style as their  ‘hampers’ – but the responses to the original tweet suggest it was not a one-off. 

In fact, the story is a very familiar one. 

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Good Law Project has previously highlighted that Government’s food box scheme for those shielding during the first lockdown was a failure. The food was often of poor quality. It did not meet the nutritional requirements of a normal adult – let alone the clinically extremely vulnerable individuals it was supposed to be for. It seems to have been viewed by suppliers as a dumping ground for unwanted items from elsewhere in their food supply chains. It ignored the needs of those who for one reason or another cannot eat particular foods. And worst of all, Government paid £44 per box – which we calculate as being nearly double the retail value – to private contractors. 

The real problems run deep. 

We see a consistent pattern – private companies are given huge contracts, they choose to scrimp on quantity and quality to maximise profits, and they leave vulnerable individuals and families facing impossible decisions about how to feed themselves and their children. And, whether because of cronyism, laziness or incompetence, Government chooses, again and again, to look the other way as shareholders get fat whilst vulnerable families go without.  

There’s also an important value judgment Government is making here. Often it would rather enrich big corporations – who profit or profiteer from selling ‘hampers’ – than trust parents and families with cash or vouchers to buy the food they know their families need.

We are urgently considering with our lawyers how to challenge these failings. We are exploring whether we can establish a meaningful human right to proper food. And we are working with food campaigners to hold the feet of Government – and of profiteers – to the fire. 

Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds – clinically extremely vulnerable adults – they all deserve better. And as taxpayers, we are entitled to answers. Why is our money going to private companies who are enriching themselves at the expense of vulnerable people?

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