Britain Collapses to 156th Place for the Human Rights of Children*
This is quite extraordinary. At first, I thought this was some sort of ‘fake news’ article. Worryingly, it isn’t. Austerity – a Conservative ideology that recklessly bailed out banks then socialised the debt has had dramatic effects upon civil society, demonstrated no better than the plummet in the overall welfare of Britain’s children in recent years. But this increase in child poverty is now of epidemic dimensions – and should be treated like one.
Nearly half of children are now living in poverty in some parts of the U.K., research by the End Child Poverty coalition has found. An unbelievable 100,000 are unfortunately added to this miserable category each year, and the government’s own statistics now show one third of all children in Britain are living in poverty.
No mention of a concerted effort by politicians to bring this scandal to an end in any manifesto; itself a damning indictment of those in power.
“Austerity measures have reduced provision of a range of services that protect and fulfil children’s rights including health and child and adolescent mental health services; education; early years; preventive and early intervention services; and youth services. “
By Kitty Jones
The Index gathers data from UNICEF and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to identify global trends in the arena of children’s rights protection. It comprises a ranking for all U.N. member states that have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a total of 165 countries.
The report says that a nation’s prosperity does not always guarantee children’s rights. Interestingly, economically better performing countries are not necessarily doing a better job when it comes to safeguarding the rights of children.
This year’s overall worst performing countries are the United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Vanuatu, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Central African Republic.
Very serious concerns have been raised about structural discrimination in the UK. Muslim children are facing increased discrimination following recent anti-terrorism measures, and a rise in discrimination against gypsy and refugee children in recent years.
The KidsRights Index is comprised of 5 domains:
- Right to Life
- Right to Health
3. Right to Education
4. Right to Protection
5. Enabling Environment for Child Rights
Marc Dullaert, founder and chairman of the KidsRights Foundation, has urged the U.K. government to treat non-discrimination as a policy priority, and to speed up the process of aligning its child protection laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child at both the national and devolved levels, as well as in all crown dependencies.
He said: “Discrimination against vulnerable groups of children and youths is severely hampering opportunities for future generations to reach their full potential.”
“Following the general election, the new government should demonstrate to the world that it will not allow the retreat from the E.U. to adversely affect the rights and opportunities of its children.”
In light of the findings, Lord Philip Hunt, shadow deputy leader of the House of Lords and shadow health spokesperson, accused the Government of “inactivity” and “inadequate service provision”, urging it to do more to protect the rights of the child.
He said: “This report exposes the inactivity of the current U.K. government and inadequate service provision in this most important area of policy making; rights of the child.”
“The U.K. is the sixth largest economy globally and therefore has the resources at its disposal to ensure that our children are adequately protected and cared for across multiple disciplines. Our children are our future and the barometer of our approach to social justice and the state of our society.”
Although many states have adopted new children’s rights policies in recent years, the Index reveals that implementation is often not evident, and many new policies fail to fully comply with the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Index rates and ranks the extent to which a country has implemented the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child while taking into account the basic infrastructure for making and implementing children’s rights policies. Portugal is this year’s global top ranking nation, with France, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Spain also ranking in the top ten.
The Index methodology means that extremely poor performances in one domain cannot be compensated by higher scores in other domains, as all of areas children’s rights are deemed to be equally important.
The report concluded that many industrialised nations, and especially the U.K., are falling far short of allocating sufficient budgets towards creating a stable environment for children’s rights, by neglecting their leadership responsibilities and failing to invest in the rights of children to the best of their abilities.
Human rights and the impact of childhood poverty
Earlier this month, another damning report published by the Royal College of Paediatrics, Child Health (RCPCH) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) revealed that more than two-thirds of paediatricians believe poverty and low income contribute “very much” to the ill health of children that they work with.
The report – Poverty and child health: views from the frontline – is based on a survey of more than 250 paediatricians across the country, whose comments provide an insight into the grave reality of life for the millions of UK children living in poverty.
Latest figures show that more than one in four (nearly 4 million) children in the U.K. live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade.
The report explores number of areas including food insecurity, poor housing and worry, stress and stigma – and the effect of these issues on the health of children.
The report reveals that:
- more than two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed said poverty and low income contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with
- housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two-thirds of respondents.
- more than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health amongst children they treat 3
- 40% had difficulty discharging a child in the last 6 months because of concerns about housing or food insecurity
- more than 50% of respondents said that financial stress and worry contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“Day in, day out doctors see the damage rising poverty does to children’s health. Their disquiet comes through in the survey findings and should sound alarms for the next government. Low family incomes, inadequate housing and cuts to support services are jeopardising the health of our most vulnerable children.
“We can and must do better to protect the well-being of future generations. reinstating the U.K.’s poverty-reduction targets would be an obvious place to start.”
Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
“Poverty has a devastating effect on child health and this report makes disturbing reading. The health impact on children living in poverty is significant – whether that’s increased likelihood of respiratory problems, mental ill-health or obesity – than children living in more affluent areas.
“Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed feel the problem is getting worse, with the combination of increasing poverty, housing problems and cuts to services meaning more families are struggling.”
The RCPCH and CPAG are calling on whoever forms the next Government to tackle poverty urgently through:
- the restoration of binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy
- the adoption of a ‘child health in all policies’ approach to decision making and policy development, with Her Majesty’s Treasury disclosing information about the impact of the Chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty and inequality
- the reversal of public health cuts to ensure universal early years services, including health visiting and school nursing, are prioritised and supported financially, with additional targeted help for children and families experiencing poverty
- the reversal of cuts to universal credit which will leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off.
As one survey respondent said: “We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the U.K. if we leave children behind. Poverty makes children sick.”
There were 3.9 million children living in “relative poverty” in 2014-15, up from 3.7 million a year earlier, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The report follows the release of figures from the DWP which revealed one in four (nearly four million) children in the U.K. live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to five million by the end of the decade.
It’s not as if the government have been unaware of the consequences of their policies and the implications of a consistent failure to uphold the UK’s human rights obligations towards children. In 2014, the Children’s Commissioner warned that the increasing inequality resulting from the austerity cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is supposed to protect children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.
In 2015, the Children’s Commissioner criticised the Conservative’s tax credit cuts and called for measures to reduce the impact that the changes will have on the poorest children. Anne Longfield, who took up her role on 1 March 2015, called on the government to exempt 800,000 children under five from tax credit cuts and to offer additional support to families with a child under five-years-old.
The role of Children’s Commissioner was established under Labour’s Children Act in 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner’s work must take regard of children’s rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.
However, the government rejected the findings of what they deemed the “partial, selective and misleading” Children’s Commissioner report. The Commissioner wrote to the Chancellor to call for children in the poorest families aged under five to be protected from the cuts.
However, George Osborne shamefully remained brazenly unrepentant.
A damning joint report written by the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners for the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child’s examination of the U.K.’s Fifth Periodic Report under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), dated 14 August 2015, says, in its overall assessment of the U.K.’s record:
“The Children’s Commissioners are concerned that the U.K. State Party’s response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 UNCRC.
The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children’s views were not sought.
Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families. In some parts of the U.K. there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation.
Austerity measures have reduced provision of a range of services that protect and fulfil children’s rights including health and child and adolescent mental health services; education; early years; preventive and early intervention services; and youth services.
The Commissioners are also seriously concerned at the impact of systematic reductions to legal advice, assistance and representation for children and their parents/carers in important areas such as prison law; immigration; private family law; and education. This means that children are denied access to remedies where their rights have been breached.
The Commissioners are also concerned at the future of the human rights settlement in the United Kingdom due to the U.K. Government’s intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law; replace it with a British Bill of Rights (the contents of which are yet to be announced), and ‘break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights’.
The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR.The Commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive.”
In another regressive and punitive policy move by the government, from April 6 2017, child tax credits and universal credit across the U.K. will be restricted to the first two children in a family. This measure will affect all households with two or more children that have an additional child after this date.
Analysis by consultancy Policy in Practice revealed a low-income family whose third or additional child is born before midnight on the day before the policy came into force would qualify for up to £50,000 in tax credit support over 18 years whereas a similar family whose third child is born on April 6 will miss out.
The government says it wants to save money and make the tax credit system “fairer”. It intends the two-child restriction to “influence the behaviour” of less well-off families by making them “think twice” about having a third child. But it also accepts there is no evidence to suggest this will happen.
This is an extremely regressive eugenic policy, with its emphasis being on social class. Eugenics was discredited following its terrible escalation and consequences in Nazi Germany.
The two children only policy also a reflects a politically motivated form of crude behaviourism – behaviour modification through the use of financial punishments. It’s probably true that all authoritarians and tyrants are behaviourists of sorts.
Critics say that at current birth rates, 100,000 third or subsequent children will not qualify for tax credit support over the next 12 months, inflating child poverty figures by at least 10% by 2020.
Social Darwinism is linked closely with eugenic ideas – a view that society and economics will naturally “check” the problem of dysgenics if no welfare policies are in place.
The Conservative government has steadily dismantled the welfare state over the past seven years, so that now, there is no longer adequate support provision for people both in work and out of work, to meet their basic living needs.
The current retrogressive, draconian approach to poverty needs to radically change if we are to be a nation that respects and upholds the human rights of all its citizens.