The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has called on the supermarket chain Iceland to join the Government’s Free School Meal voucher scheme, which supports low-income families during the pandemic whilst schools are closed.

The Mayor is backing a campaign from ‘Shadwell Responds’, a non-party political community-led response group to the Coronavirus crisis working on behalf of community organisations across the Shadwell area, which is lobbying for Iceland to join the scheme. The group is working in alliance with Tower Hamlets Citizens, a chapter of Citizens UK.

The scheme provides low-income families with vouchers worth £15 a week (£3 per day for each eligible child) until schools reopen, however the vouchers can only be used at shops and supermarkets participating in the scheme.

In a letter to Iceland’s Chief Executive, Mayor Biggs highlights that many families rely on Iceland for essential shopping, with many families in the Shadwell area relying on Iceland in Watney Market. With Iceland not yet participating in the voucher scheme many families are forced to use the vouchers elsewhere, often in less convenient and more expensive shops.

Mayor Biggs said that Iceland’s participation in the scheme would make ‘a real difference’ in Tower Hamlets and urged the supermarket to join as soon as possible.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “The Free School Meal voucher scheme is a lifeline for many families whilst schools are closed during this crisis, but for many their choices are limited and we need to ensure that vouchers can be used at nearby and affordable shops. This is particularly the case in the Shadwell area where many families rely on the Watney Market Iceland, and local community groups are working hard to ensure the vouchers are valid at the store.

“We know that Iceland is in discussions to join the voucher scheme and I urge them to join as soon as possible. This will make a real difference to many families in Tower Hamlets.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Planning, Air Quality and Tackling Poverty, said: “We really welcome this community action from Shadwell residents to call on the Government to include Iceland to be part of the voucher scheme. We also urge Government to make sure that the voucher scheme is reaching everyone who needs it.”

On behalf of Shadwell Responds, Khoyrul Shaheed (COVID-19 response Coordinator, Darul Ummah), Imam Ashiqur Rahman (Darul Ummah) and Janice Hill (Family Learning Coordinator: Shapla School, St Paul’s Primary School, Harry Gosling Primary School, Mulberry Girls School), said: “Food insecurity is something affecting many families in our community at this difficult time. Whilst we are pleased that the voucher scheme is in place, we know from listening across our institutions that it is not working locally and that families are being forced to shop at more expensive stores or go without. We urge Iceland and the Government to work together with us to ensure no one in Shadwell goes Hungry.”




  • Full text of the letter sent from Mayor Biggs to the Chief Executive of Iceland Foods Limited:


Dear Sir Malcolm,

I’m contacting you about the government Free School Meals scheme set up to support families in response to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

In the borough I represent we have a high number of pupils who receive Free School Meals and they are a real lifeline for families on low incomes. The voucher scheme has supported these families while schools are shut and are even more important as households may have seen their income drop due to the lockdown measures in place restricting their employment.

Many of my residents rely on Iceland for essential shopping. In particular families who are eligible for free school meals in the Shadwell area normally shop at Iceland in Watney Market because it is the cheapest local supermarket.

However, because Iceland is not currently a member of the government Free School Meal scheme, these families are now forced to shop elsewhere which is less convenient and more expensive. For those on a tight budget this makes a real difference in being able to feed their families. It has of course been a challenging time for us all and we appreciate the efforts of those in retail to serve the public in difficult circumstances.

I understand that there were reports you were progressing operational discussions to join the government scheme I appreciate there will be complexities to this. However I know this will make a real difference to my residents if this was resolved – and I urge you to do all you can to join the scheme as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor John Biggs

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