Poorer children disproportionately affected by austerity measures, says UN

The UN report says it is concerned that UK child poverty rates remain high and calls on the government – which dropped statutory child poverty targets this year.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Poorer children disproportionately affected by austerity measures, says UN” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th June 2016 18.14 UTC

Austerity policies and and welfare cuts are causing poverty and inequality, according to a damning United Nations (UN) investigation into children’s rights in the UK.

The UN committee on the rights of the child said it was “seriously concerned” about the disproportionate impact on poorer children of a range of government policies, from the benefit cap and tax credit cuts to mental health.

It calls on the UK, which is a voluntary signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child (CRC), to do more to ensure children’s rights to adequate health, living standards, housing and education are met.

The UN report says it is concerned that UK child poverty rates remain high and calls on the government – which dropped statutory child poverty targets this year – to re-establish detailed and “concrete” measures to ensure it meets its UN poverty reduction commitments within a set time frame.

Other UN recommendations ask the UK government to:

  • Strictly implement its ban on councils placing families in temporary accommodation, including B&Bs, for longer than the six-week legal limit.
  • Provide children with disabilities a comprehensive package of services and to help them with transition to adulthood.
  • Systematically collect data on food and nutrition for children, in order to identify the causes of food insecurity and malnutrition.

The committee last reported on the UK in 2008, making this the first time that it has examined the effect of post-2010 economic, social and welfare policies on children’s rights.

“The committee is seriously concerned at the effects that recent fiscal policies and allocation of resources have had in contributing to inequality in children’s enjoyment of their rights, disproportionately affecting children in disadvantaged situations,” the report says.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England said the report demonstrated that too often children bore the brunt of spending cuts and policy decisions were made without proper consideration of how they affect children.

The alliance’s director, Louise King, said: “The UN’s verdict on the UK’s treatment of children should act as a wake-up call that much more needs to be done to prioritise children’s rights in England.”

The government said it would continue to work closely with partners to understand the main concerns of charities – and children – on the UK’s implementation of its UNCRC obligations in the light of the report.

A government spokesperson said: “All children deserve the best start in life, and growing up in a household where people work is the best way to ensure the economic security they need.

“That is why our welfare reforms incentivise work and ensure we have a system which is fair to those who need it and those who pay for it.”

However, the UN calls on ministers to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact on children of all the social security and tax credit reforms the government has introduced since 2010.

It says policies such as the benefit cap and the two-child limit on tax credits undermine children’s rights to an adequate standard of living because they restrict the amount of benefit to a family regardless of size or need.

Last year the UK supreme court ruled that the benefit cap put ministers in clear breach of their children’s rights obligations because it broke the link between benefits and need and therefore risked leaving claimants unable to house, feed or clothe their family.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This is a powerful report which catalogues recent cuts and welfare changes that ride roughshod over children’s rights. It reads as an indictment of the government’s failure to prioritise children in its decisions on social security.

“In the face of a projected 50% increase in child poverty by 2020, the committee sounds a strong warning: child poverty reduction targets must be reinstated and at the heart of the government’s forthcoming life chances strategy.”

Although it is a signatory to the CRC, the government cannot be compelled to comply with the UN’s findings.

Aoife Nolan, professor of international human rights law at the University of Nottingham, said: “The UN’s observations aren’t binding in the way that a court judgment is – but they are important findings by an expert body on the extent to which the UK is in compliance with its international human children’s rights obligations.

“They cannot be relied on directly as the basis of a legal claim before UK domestic courts as the CRC hasn’t been domestically incorporated but they can be used to encourage – or embarrass – the government into action.”

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