By Imogen Richmond-Bishop
Today the Child’s Rights Alliance England have released their annual State of Child’s Rights in England report.
Children have special rights and protections that recognise their vulnerable status. This report looks at the progress that England has made in realising chidlren’s rights as well as the failures.
The U.K ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991. This means that in theory all areas of Government and the state must be doing all that they can to ensure the progressive realisation of all children’s rights.
The rights included in the CRC should be seen as minimum standards meaning that no child should experience growing up in conditions that are below these conditions.
Unfortunately having a right is not the same as enjoying a right, and for millions of children across England this is all too obvious.
The sixth world economy simply cannot afford child poverty. In light of international human rights law the government must take action to ensure that wages and welfare payments are sufficient so as to ensure that families are able to achieve an adequate standard of living.
Increasing child poverty rates have had a devastating impact upon the realisation of children’s rights. Despite this there has been no progress on re-introducing binding targets to eradicate child poverty in England.
There are an estimated 4.1 million children living in relative poverty, with two thirds of these children living in families that have at least one family member in work.
Particular elements of recent tax and welfare reform have been found to be pushing children into poverty, these include the two child limit, the benefits freeze, and lengthy delays in payment. In fact just last month the Department for Work and Pensions secretary admitted that rising emergency food aid use across the country could be linked to the roll out of Universal Credit.
Child Poverty Action Group found that child benefit now barely covers a fifth of the cost of a child for a couple, and less than a sixth of the cost for a lone parent. Families on benefits now have to live without 40% of the budget that they need for a social accepted minimum standard of living.
Right to Housing
The number of children who are housed in temporary accommodation has reached the highest levels in over a decade.
This is despite the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 that places a legal duty on councils to provide meaningful support and has introduced measures intended to prevent people from becoming homeless. In the context of devastating cuts to local authority budgets and housing shortages there are concerns that local authorities will be unable to meet their duties in this Act due to lack of means.
The rising numbers of children who are homeless has been attributed to the impact of cuts to welfare payments, chronic shortage of social housing provided by local authorities, and the rising costs of rental properties in the private sector.
At the end of March 2018 2,230 families with children, including those headed by a child, were housed in B&Bs; nearly 40% of these families were there for longer than six weeks.
Whilst these figures represent an improvement on the same quarter in the previous years, since 2009 the number of homeless households housed in B&Bs has grown by nearly 250%.
“CRAE’s report denounces that local authorities continue to break the law by placing children in B&Bs for longer than six weeks. This practice contravenes international human rights law. The best interests of the child shall be given primary consideration and children have the right to be listened to. Children understand why we all have rights and they can explain it clearly to anyone who is ready to listen.”Koldo Casla – Just Fair
There were 123,130 children in families housed in temporary accommodation as of March 2018. This represents an increase of 2,610 on the previous year. 70% of the children housed in temporary accommodation were in London where the housing crisis is particularly acute.
The temporary accommodation can represent a serious risk to the development of the children housed there, as there is often no place to play or to do homework. There are also often adults with drug or alcohol issues that are housed in the same temporary accommodation units as the children.
“You’d always see people smoking joints and other stuff, and loads of alcoholics sitting about. I never felt safe there.” Carl, 16 – participant in recent CRAE research.
Many families have been placed in temporary accommodation that is outside of their area, this can cut people off from their support networks, extended family members, employment, and force children to change schools.
Right to Food
The UK has some of the highest childhood food insecurity rates in Europe. Hunger in childhood can go on to have significant long-term effects. These can range from health problems like poor growth to lower academic achievement.
For some children a free school meal might represent the only hot nutritious meal they will receive that day. But many children are not able to access free school meals regardeless of their need. This can be due to their parents immigration status despite the child being born in Britain, or a change to entitlements that is set to leave one million children no longer eligible.
The school holidays represent a major barrier for many families on low incomes, with many parents reporting having to skip meals, getting into debt, or using emegerncy food aid in order to cover the additional cost of providing meals for their chidlren. Schools have also reported that many children return back from the holidays malnourished and haven fallen behind in their learning when compared to their peers whose parent’s were better off financially.
Last year the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill was introduced to parliament, aimed at providing a framework for provision of food and activities during the holidays in England and Wales. However, the government decided not to support this Private Members’ Bill, arguing that primary legislation is not their chosen method of resolving the issue. Instead they offered funding for some pilots
In order to protect the rights of children, we need to ensure that all children have access to healthy, affordable and nutritious food. No child should have a disadvantaged start in life, nor increased risk of diet-related disease, due to their background.
“It is a damning indictment of our national priorities that such little progress has been made on addressing children’s rights issues and the UN’s recommendations over the past year. We have sadly taken steps backwards in many areas, for example, local authorities are ignoring both the law and the UN’s warning to ensure that families are not held in B&Bs for longer than 6 weeks and the use of school exclusions continues to increase. It is essential that government and parliamentarians focus attention and resources on addressing the issues outlined in this report and put the safety and wellbeing of children at the centre of policy decisions.”Louise King, Director of CRAE and Director of Policy and Campaigns at Just for Kids Law
In order to pull these children our of poverty the Government needs to ensure that their parents or carers have enough money in their wallets to cover the families living costs, this can either be through jobs that pay a fair wage or through a welfare safety net that supports people when they are in need.
To start with it is of upmost urgency that the Government develops, funds, and implements an action plan to reduce child poverty. Further recommendations made in the report can be found online.