In a joint report to the United Nations on Wednesday, the children’s commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, argue that the Government’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 vulnerable groups from child poverty.
The commissioners carried out a review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence to the UN on how much progress has been made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
They claim that the Government did not consider the best interests of children when introducing policies, nor did they seek children’s views.
The commissioners stress that child poverty rates are ‘unacceptably high’ as a result of reductions to families’ income, which has led to food and fuel poverty and increased use of food banks.
A poll commissioned by 4 Children of more than 2,000 parents in the UK found that almost half of those surveyed considered themselves to be 'facing financial struggles'.
However, Government statistics published last week suggest that relative poverty is at its lowest since the mid 1980s.
They say that even more children will be pushed into poverty following the budget next week, and if reports are correct that the Government plans to repeal the Child Poverty Act 2010. The Act requires the UK and devolved Governments to put in place strategies and actions to eradicate child poverty.
To ensure no more children are pushed into poverty, within their report the commissioners call on the UK Government to urgently review all Budget and economic decisions.
The commissioners are also concerned that repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights will have a negative effect on children’s rights by substantially diluting the protection the Human Rights Act provides for children’s rights in the UK.
Other key areas of concern highlighted in the report include that no UK nation has fully incorporated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law, although Scotland and Wales have taken some steps towards this.
Tam Baillie, Scotland's children's commissioner, said, ‘The current child poverty rate across the UK makes a mockery of our international obligation. It is deeply disturbing that the UK Government, aware of the current and future impact of its cuts, appears to be targeting the most vulnerable people in our society.
‘The Government’s austerity measures have condemned 2.3 million children into poverty and that number will increase if further proposed cuts are enacted. For one of the richest countries in the world, this is a policy of choice and it is a disgrace. It is avoidable and unacceptable. The Government’s short-term budgetary policies will have long-term, corrosive effects on children across the whole UK, affecting their health, educational attainment and life expectancy.
‘The Government must reconsider its policy of austerity measures for the sake of children across the UK.’
Commenting on the rise in known cases of child abuse, Anne Longfield, England's children’s commissioner, said, ‘As a society we are beginning to wake up to the prevalence of child sexual exploitation and abuse and the damage it causes after many years of denial.
‘Tens of thousands of children continue to suffer in silence because the true scale of abuse is unknown. The sharp increase in recorded sexual offences against children we have seen recently may be because of better detection, rather than more abuse and neglect but from our ongoing work in this area in England, we know that the vast majority of victims of child sexual abuse never come to the attention of the authorities. Professionals who work with children must get better at identifying and protecting children across the UK must be a national priority for every one of us.’