High Court finds Welsh Government decision to stop free school meals in holidays was made unlawfully

High Court finds Welsh Government decision to stop free school meals in holidays was made unlawfully

The Welsh Government’s decision to stop free school meals in the school holidays last year was made unlawfully, the High Court has ruled, following a legal challenge brought by two families.

The High Court declared, by consent, that the Welsh Ministers acted in breach of the Rights of the Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 and the Equality Act 2010.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Welsh Government decided to fund free school meals for eligible children during school holidays.

The funding continued beyond the end of the pandemic to support families during the cost-of-living crisis. However, in June 2023, the Welsh Government announced that it would not be funding the policy during the forthcoming six-week summer holidays due to budgetary pressures.

Two families who were significantly impacted by the announcement brought a claim for judicial review challenging its lawfulness.

The case concluded without a court hearing last week, as Welsh Ministers accepted that the decision was unlawful on two grounds.

Public Law Project, who represented the families throughout, said: “Welsh Ministers admitted that they failed to take into account the rights of the children affected or consider the impact the decision would have on different groups of people such as disabled people, ethnic minorities and single mothers.”

Gwion Lewis KC of Landmark Chambers, instructed by the Public Law Project, acted for the claimants, alongside David Gardner of No5 Chambers.

In a written statement, Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language said: “The decision not to extend funding into the 2023 summer holidays was not taken lightly by the Welsh Government. However, as the subsequent comprehensive impact assessment demonstrated, and given that our budget is worth £1.2bn less in real terms than when it was set by UK Government in 2021, it would have been unaffordable without having to make significant cuts in other key education budgets.

“The Welsh Government received a judicial review claim in respect of the provision of free school meals over the school holidays in September 2023. This has now been settled by agreement between the parties by way of a consent order. As the claim related to a procedural issue, the current position has not changed: the provision of free school meals during the holidays ceased in 2023, as funding unfortunately remains unavailable within the current budgetary constraints.

“In reaching a settlement, the Welsh Ministers accepted that in June 2023, further equality assessment work needed to be completed.”

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