Free school meals will not be supplied during the February half term, the government has said.
National Education Union boss Kevin Courtney described the decision as ‘simply astonishing’, as families most affected by the pandemic will be hit hardest.
On Wednesday, the Department for Education published guidelines on the provision of free school meals, following an outcry over the quality of the some of food parcels.
Pictures circulated on social media of the packages children have received – some with minimal contents inside.
Boris Johnson condemned some of the inadequate parcels, describing them as ‘disgraceful’, after speaking with footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford.
The government’s guidelines states that during term time it’s the school’s responsibility to supply free meals but goes on to say that ‘there is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme’.
The £170m Covid Winter Grant fund was set up in December and aims to support those most in need in England with things like food and energy bills.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is simply astonishing that the Government has, once again, revealed its total disregard for those hardest hit by the ongoing health pandemic.
“After a year in which the stark inequalities faced by millions of children and young people has been at the forefront of the minds of the public, the ugly spectre of holiday hunger is now looming yet again.
“This week, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson made public statements about how appalled they were by the quality of food parcels shared on Twitter.
“But that is put in the shade by today’s confirmation that yet more disruption to free schools meals could lie ahead in half term. These are battles which should not have to be repeatedly fought.
“Transmission rates of Covid-19 are higher than ever. Chopping and changing between services increases the risk of children going hungry, parents having to venture out of the house, and the unnecessary public health risk that would create.
“If families are to remain at home during what is presently the final week of lockdown, then we need a continuity of access and as little disruption to that effort as possible.
“No child should wake up feeling anxious about where their next meal is coming from, and even now millions are still waiting for the reinstatement of the national food voucher scheme after weeks of struggling to access food parcels.
“Suggesting that local councils will be able to recreate a brand new system of supplying Free School Meals for the week of half term using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is an unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos this could cause will put millions of children at risk. The anguish, not to mention hunger, this decision could cause is immeasurable.
“Ministers should hang their heads in shame and, unless they reverse this decision, never again speak of their concern for disadvantaged children. Their actions show very clearly that they do not care.”