With support from PLP, a single mother of two primary school children has begun a legal challenge against the Welsh Government over its decision to scrap free school meals during the summer holidays. 

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‘Nadia’, who is seeking asylum in the UK, received notice of the Welsh Government’s decision by email from the school a few weeks before the end of term. 

Nadia said:

“I went into shock just looking at the email. I rang the school and they confirmed that the summer free school meals will stop. How can they do this without a survey, or asking families how it will affect them? I know lots of families with children who have special needs, but the Government did not get any information on how different people could be affected.” 

Nadia is unable to work and cannot claim benefits whilst she is seeking asylum. She and her two children receive section 95 support given to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, totalling £125 per week. 

Free school meal vouchers are worth around £40 per child every two weeks. 

Nadia said:

“These vouchers are vital for feeding my two children. My brain is working 24/7 trying to figure out how I’m going to make this work. I already buy the absolute basics and the cheapest stuff, but I don’t know how much lower I can go. Maybe if I eat two slices of bread, I’ll cut that back to one so I can make sure the children have enough. I have been told there are some food banks I can go to, but they are far away, and I need to pay the bus tickets for me and two my children, so even getting there is expensive. 

“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. To be honest I’m still in shock.” 

Acting on Nadia’s behalf, lawyers at the Public Law Project say that the Welsh Government’s decision to scrap free school meals over the summer holidays may be unlawful because the Government did not appear to take steps to consider how the decision could impact people who are socio-economically disadvantaged or how it could mitigate those impacts.  

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 requires public authorities, when making ‘decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise their functions’, to have:  

‘due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage’.

The Welsh Government’s own guidance suggests a five-stage approach to demonstrate compliance with the due regard duty: planning; evidence gathering of any socio-economic disadvantage and inequalities of outcome in relation to the decision; assessment; analysis by strategic decision makers; and recording. 

If this case reaches court, it could be the first time that Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 has been litigated. Section 1 of the Equality Act is in force in Wales and Scotland, but not in England. 

Public Law Project Solicitor Matthew Court said:

“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.”  

According to PLP, the Welsh Government’s decision may also be unlawful if it did not carry out an Equality Impact Assessment. 

Matthew Court said:

“Carrying out an Equality Impact Assessment is one way for authorities to ensure their decisions do not breach Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. This section of the Act requires public authorities, when carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those that do not.” 

The legal action also references the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 which requires the Welsh Ministers to have due regard to the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Public Law Project say that the Welsh Government could have demonstrated compliance with this by carrying out a Children Rights Impact Assessment, but the authority appears to have failed to have done so. 

Matthew Court said:

“Every Government must sometimes make difficult and unpopular decisions, particularly when resources are limited. But the question is, should they do so without considering the impact on vulnerable people, especially when that means scrapping a service that is vital to ensure children are properly fed? The short notice has really left my client and many parents like her in the lurch.”