Posted: Thu 27th Jul 2023

Legal challenge against Welsh Government’s decision to stop free school meals in summer holidays

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jul 27th, 2023

A legal challenge against the Welsh Government’s decision to terminate free school meals during the summer holidays has begun.

The free school meals scheme, which has provided support to many families during periods of school holidays, was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic as a means to combat ‘holiday hunger’.

However, it has now been stopped abruptly by Welsh government ministers, with the final round of the scheme running for the last time during the May half term.

A single mother, known as ‘Nadia’, an asylum seeker in the UK and mother to two primary school children, was made aware of the Welsh government’s decision a few weeks before the end of term via an email from the school.

Unable to work or claim benefits due to her asylum-seeking status, Nadia relies heavily on free school meal vouchers, worth around £40 per child every two weeks.

Upon receiving the news, Nadia said, “These vouchers are vital for feeding my two children. I already buy the absolute basics and the cheapest stuff, but I don’t know how much lower I can go.”

“They should have given us at least a few months to prepare for this – I would have been better prepared to help myself and my children.”

Representatives from the legal charity Public Law Project, acting for Nadia claim that the Welsh Government’s decision to end free school meals over the summer holidays might be unlawful.

They argue that the government failed to consider how this decision would impact socio-economically disadvantaged individuals and what could be done to mitigate these effects.

According to the Equality Act 2010’s Section 1, public authorities must have ‘due regard’ to reducing socio-economic disadvantage when making decisions of strategic nature about exercising their functions.

Legal experts suggest the Welsh Government should have followed a five-stage process, including planning, gathering evidence, assessment, analysis, and recording, to show compliance with this duty.

Public Law Project Solicitor Matthew Court noted, “The Welsh Government does not appear to have taken any of the steps required by its own guidance on how to act in accordance with the rules on decisions that affect people who experience socio-economic disadvantage.”

Should this case make it to court, it could become the first legal test of the Equality Act’s Section 1, a clause currently in effect in Wales and Scotland, but not England.

Three councils – Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, and Powys – have stepped up to self-fund free school meals 0ver the summer holiday.

Flintshire Council has confirmed will not be finding funds within its reserves to cover the weekly free school meal payments during the school holidays.

Wales-based think tank, the Bevan Foundation, has urged First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, to provide more support to families this summer, advocating for funding to cover food and heating costs in the form of either continued school meals payments or a child payment later in the year.

Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said:

 “Whatever your views on the scheme, Labour ministers in the Senedd should have given parents time to plan.

 “Instead, they’ve withdrawn it with little notice. They are distracted by vanity projects like creating 36 more politicians, and this is just the latest sloppy decision they’ve taken.”

 

 

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