Protect Children from Budget Cuts or Face Legal Action
22 June 2023
Children’s Law Centre issues pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Finance
The Children’s Law Centre has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, outlining failures in the budget setting process for the year 2023/24. The letter states that the Secretary of State has failed in his responsibility to apply the principle of equality, including assessing whether the cumulative impact of the budget cuts is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged children, including disabled children.
The Children’s Law Centre had previously written to the Secretary of State, in a letter endorsed by over 200 organisations and leading individuals, stating that his budget will cause active harm to children and young people. The latest correspondence requests that several meaningful steps are taken to address equality and human rights concerns which impact on children. If these steps are not taken, the Children’s Law Centre believes it will regrettably be left with no alternative but to bring legal proceedings.
Fergal McFerran, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said:
“In the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and a functioning Assembly, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has ultimate responsibility to apply the principle of equality when setting the budget. This includes assessing the cumulative impact his budget will have on protected groups in our society such as children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities, and children living in poverty.
“From our engagement with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office, we see no evidence that Chris Heaton-Harris has carried out his legal obligations. In fact, it is our view that he has utterly failed to do so. We fear the cumulative impact his budget will have on children and young people will be severe, particularly those most disadvantaged. We already see this in our everyday work.
“The Children’s Law Centre, the wider voluntary and community sector and even the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to rethink his budget and protect children from harm. Unfortunately, concerns about the cumulative impact of the budget on the most vulnerable and the Secretary of State’s apparent failure to ensure equality appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
“If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland fails to take meaningful steps to assess how to protect children from the cumulative effects of the budget cuts, we will be left with no reasonable alternative other than to seek leave to apply to the High Court in Belfast for judicial review. Indeed, as an organisation set up to advance the rights of children, it would regrettably be the only course of action left to us.”