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In the News

Devolution example: free school meals for London primary pupils

Mike McCartney

21st February 2023

Sadiq Khan announced this week that for one year, all children in he capital's primary schools would be entitled to free school meals. This universal plan means they will not be means tested.

Access to free school meals in schools is a bit of a patchwork across the UK at the minute...

In Wales there is a phased implementation of universal free meals, with the youngest pupils being entitled to meals regardless of income as from September of last year, with the goal of a full roll out by September 2024.

North of the border, pupils in years 1-5 have been entitled to universal access since January 2022 and plans for pupils in years 6&7 (Scottish pupils receive 7 years of primary school education, unlike their counterparts south of the border) are in the pipeline.

The remaining part of the UK's Celtic fringe, Northern Ireland, does not offer anything beyond means tested access.

In terms of the governing architecture of the UK, how does this relate to the specification?

One of the arguments in favour of devolution is that they act as 'laboratories of democracy', a phrase the US judge Louis Brandeis coined early in the 20th century with regards to federalism in that country. As such, the can act as Petri dishes in a lab, trying out new policy ideas. And if successful, they can be replicated elsewhere in other regions. The success of the smoking ban in public in Scotland is one such example.

This is in my notes as an advantage of devolution in the UK here...

What has been the positive impact of devolution?

  • Democracy has been enhanced within the UK since government is much more region sensitive:, e.g. the congestion charge in London
  • On a separate but related note, the new legislatures act as policy laboratories - e.g. the Scottish first smoking ban
  • The electorates within the devolved regions accept devolution and express the view that it is the preferred system of government.
  • Despite increases in support for the nationalists in Scotland support for independence has never been a sustained majority
  • Within England the vast majority want Scotland and Wales to remain in the Union, thus there has been no English ‘backlash’.
  • The use of proportional electoral systems in the new assemblies has resulted in UK politics becoming much more pluralistic.
  • Devolution has boosted the representation of women in comparison with Westminster.

You could argue that the wider access to meals for children in Scotland and Wales is because of the more generous funding arrangements the devolved arenas have access to, and there has been criticism of Khan's announcement for being a one year only policy and it happening to coincide with election year. But there are now increased calls for youngsters throughout the rest of England to have free school meals, especially given the backdrop of the current cost of living crisis.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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