Shadwell councillor urges government to include Iceland in free school meals scheme for needy families

Cllr Rabina Khan wants Iceland stores like this one in Roman Road to be part of a government scheme

Cllr Rabina Khan wants Iceland stores like this one in Roman Road to be part of a government scheme providing schoolchidlren with free school meal vouchers. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

Discount supermarket Iceland should be included in a government scheme providing free meals for schoolchidlren from poorer backgrounds.

Cllr Rabina Khan. Picture: R Khan

Cllr Rabina Khan. Picture: R Khan - Credit: Archant

That’s the message from Shadwell councillor, Rabina Khan, who has written to the chairman of Iceland, Sir Malcolm Walker, and secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson, in a bid to get the chain included.

The scheme started on March 31 allows schools to order £15 supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers.

Chains which have signed up include M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s, Waitrose and Aldi.

The scheme grew out of concerns that youngsters who would usually get a free school meal could go hungry during the lockdown.

But Cllr Khan argued that poorer families more likely to shop in Iceland are being failed because the chain is not included.

Cllr Khan said: “In a borough where more than half of our children live in poverty in households where the average income is less than £15,000, it is important that supermarkets like Iceland are included in the government’s free school meals voucher scheme.

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“Many families rely on free school meals and are regular Iceland customers. Whilst Aldi – another affordable store – has been included in the scheme it is not in close proximity for struggling Tower Hamlets families.”

In the letter, Cllr Khan urges Mr Williamson to include Iceland. The Department for Education (DfE) announced on April 17 it was working to sign up more supermarkets, but this depended on chains having the right kit to handle its gift cards.

An Iceland spokesman said the company’s founder Sir Malcolm Walker shared Cllr Khan’s disappointment.

He added: “We were surprised when the Department for Education’s original list of participants omitted not just Iceland, but all the other discount retailers where parents whose children are entitled to free school meals are most likely to shop.

“The crux of the problem is the government chose a provider for the scheme - Edenred - whose technology is incompatible with our own.”

Adapting systems to accept the vouchers would have involved weeks of work by which time the scheme could no longer be running.

This meant Iceland could not justify starting the work when its teams are under other pressures from Covid-19.

It has expanded online deliveries and given vulnerable people priority when placing orders.