Anger as Jewish pupils lose hot kosher school lunches after firm 'suddenly closes'

Fears have been raised over the welfare of needy children


Hundreds of Jewish pupils, some from deprived areas of London, are going without a hot lunch after a kosher caterer reportedly closed without warning.

More than a dozen Orthodox schools, many of them based in Barnet, north London, have had their meals service withdrawn.

The move means some of the most vulnerable and impoverished children have lost their only daily hot meal.

“Our school has quite a number of needy families. The hot meal we used to provide was, for some, the only substantial good meal the children had all day,” said one senior school staff member.

The staffer, who asked not to be named, said their school had been speaking to other caterers, but kosher hot meals would cost at least £4.50 per child — out of reach for many of its families.

The primary and secondary school pupils were previously offered nutritionally-balanced kosher meals, including beef bolognese, roast chicken and turkey shawarma in a pita.

Families now have to provide a packed lunch or pay towards a cold, pre-packed meal.

Headteacher Miriam Kaye of Mathilda Marks school in Mill Hill, said: “We are really disappointed for our pupils that they are now unable to have a hot meal at lunch time, due to the fact that kosher meal prices now make this unaffordable for providers, parents and schools.

“Hot meals not only help to provide a balanced diet for our pupils, it helps them concentrate better through the afternoon and allows our pupils to try a range of different foods in a safe environment.

“We are hoping that the government and the Jewish community find a way to deliver affordable meals for all.”

One working mother-of-three, whose children attend one of the schools said: “I used to rely on someone providing hot meaty lunches for my children. Now the situation is pretty dire. They were offered a cold, non-meat, lunch and we have to make up the cost, which is more than £1.

"We are lucky we could to do that, but some can’t.”

London Kosher Catering — which only took over the contract to supply around 20 Jewish schools earlier this year — refused to comment on the reason it had ceased to provide the meals amid reports they were in financial difficulties.

As an interim measure at a number of the schools, another firm, Hermolis, is providing the pupils with a packed lunch, charging £3.10 per for a tuna, egg, cheese or hummus sandwich, a cup of still water, fruit and a small cup of vegetables.

It claimed the issues were caused by government funding for school meals which, they said, was insufficient to pay for kosher catering.

For children entitled to free school meals, the government provides £457.90 for their meals over an academic year — £2.41 a day. But a spokeswoman for Wembley-based Hermolis said this was not enough to cover the cost of kosher meals, particularly due to the rising cost of food and kosher certification.

He said: “It is impossible to provide a kosher meal for £2.40. No kid is going to get anything decent for that amount.

"The parents are not happy because they used to have hot meals for the children, with protein, vegetables, fruit and a dessert. We could not do that for less than £5 or £5.50, otherwise it’s just not viable.”

London Kosher Catering had taken over provision at around 20 London Jewish schools in March this year from another firm, Signature Dining. Signature Dining founder Paul Robottom said when his firm had the contract to supply the schools it had been charging £2.68 a meal for young pupils, who get smaller portions, and £3.26 for everyone else.

Last year, he said, it had to substitute some proteins to manage costs, using lentils instead of meat.

He said: “At the moment there is no provider of [hot] lunches for Jewish schools. We have 30 years of experience working with the Jewish community but at the moment the councils are not helping with the costs.”

The affected schools include Hasmonean Primary School, Beis Yaakov Primary School, Pardes House Primary School, Menorah Primary School, Sacks Morasha Jewish Primary School, Rimon Jewish Primary School, Mathilda Marks-Kennedy Jewish Primary School, Beit Shvidler Primary School, Nancy Reuben Primary School, Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School, Independent Jewish Day School, Kerem Primary School, Menorah Foundation School. Barnet Council claimed its Jewish schools had an alternative supplier.

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