Too many children in Wales are being denied a decent childhood due to the crippling effects of child poverty – this is the stark message being delivered to the UN today (1 July 2015) by Sally Holland, Wales’ new children’s commissioner.
The Commissioner’s warning came as all four UK Children’s Commissioners publish a joint report which scrutinises the UK and devolved government’s record on children’s rights over the last seven years. It identifies areas of common concern drawn across the four nations; they include the state of mental health services, child sexual abuse, children in the justice system, the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and repealing the Human Rights Act. It also includes 70 recommendations, all fundamental in assisting the UK and devolved governments to fully realise children’s rights across the country.
Appointed in April this year to act as an independent champion for children and young people in Wales, Sally Holland said:
“It is deeply disappointing that I have to present a report to the UN which shows Wales having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK. Although Welsh Government has a clear anti-poverty strategy with some promising programmes for children, including Flying Start and Families First, these have so far failed to make an impact on overall rates of poverty. This may be related to the problems of scale and that these programmes do not reach enough children in Wales.
“Whilst the UK Government’s austerity measures have halted the decline in child poverty and around 200,000 children in Wales continue to live in poverty, I remain convinced that the Welsh Government and local government have some levers to change things. The approach taken by the Welsh Government places a central emphasis on securing employment as a route out of poverty but there is also an urgent need to address in-work poverty. Many families are struggling with a combination of low wages and high childcare, housing and heating costs. Wales now has more low income working families living in poverty than there are non-working ones. Welsh Government urgently needs to intensify its efforts to tackle child poverty.”
The Commissioner added:
“I acknowledge there has been some progress on children’s rights in Wales, including becoming the first country in the UK whose government has adopted the UNCRC as the guiding principle for policy development for children and young people. Yet it’s frustrating that we have to report yet again that some of our most vulnerable children are being denied adequate support. Take child and adult mental health services as an example; yes we’ve seen additional funds, but we’re still hearing about vulnerable children receiving an unequal service; there’s a lack of access to crisis intervention, they’re facing long waiting times and some children are being treated on adult psychiatric wards.”
Since the UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991, the UK Government has been obliged to submit progress reports to the UN Committee every five years, outlining how it is fulfilling its commitment to children and young people. The UN Committee will be compiling its report on the UK Government’s performance next year.
Notes to Editors
The Report of the UK Children’s Commissioners for the Pre-Sessional Working Group is the first full-term review of the UK’s record in upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) since 2008.
Each area examined has a series of recommendations from the Children’s Commissioners who have a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of children.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is an independent committee of 18 experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols by States Parties. The Committee carries out Periodic Reviews of States Parties’ implementation of the Convention and issues Concluding Observations (including recommended actions) to States. The last Periodic Review of the UK took place in 2007-2008. As part of the Periodic Review process the State Party submits a report on the status of the Convention Rights. The UK State Party report was submitted in May 2014 and is available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fGBR%2f5&Lang=en
National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organisations may then submit ‘alternative’ reports on the UK’s implementation of the Convention, by 1 July 2015. These reports will be considered by a working group of the Committee in October 2015 and a list of questions for the State Party will be produced (the ‘list of issues’). The State Party will then respond to the list of issues before being examined by the Committee in Geneva in May – June 2016.
Child poverty and austerity
The UK Government and devolved governments must make child poverty a key focus as a matter of urgency, and fully comply with the Child Poverty Act 2010. Sufficient resources must be provided to meaningfully tackle child poverty and prevent the predicted rise by 2020. The impact of all new policies on families on low incomes must be assessed, and measures put in place to prevent them from having a detrimental impact.
Children’s rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living should be fulfilled by the welfare system: children and their families should be protected from welfare cuts; and measures should not discriminate against children from particular groups for example children of lone parents, children with disabilities or children from large families.
The UK Government should urgently address the need for adequate housing for lower-income families and end the use of inappropriate bed-and-breakfast style accommodation for families with children.
The UK Government should provide guidance to local authorities in England and Wales on meeting the needs of 16 and 17 year olds with a statutory entitlement to support.
It should ensure that the additional costs of disability are met by welfare provision for children with disabilities.
The UK Government and devolved governments must ensure that children who experience any form of child sexual abuse receive appropriate counselling and therapy as a priority.
Children’s views and experiences should be heard and taken into account in development of all measures to combat child sexual abuse including child sexual exploitation.
All official agencies must establish adequate information sharing and multi-agency working practices to protect children from child sexual abuse including child sexual exploitation.
The State Party and the devolved governments should immediately prohibit all corporal punishment in the family and in all other institutions and forms of alternative care.
Children in the justice system
Children and families without sufficient means should be able to obtain legal advice, assistance, and where litigation is contemplated, legal representation free of charge in any case where a child’s best interests are engaged.
Custodial facilities should be appropriate to the age and needs of the children detained there. Adult prison-like facilities such as Young Offender Institutions should not be used for children.
Implementation of the UNCRC
The protection of children’s rights in UK law must not be weakened. Any new Bill of Rights should build upon, rather than reduce, the protection of the fundamental rights of all children without discrimination, as well as providing effective judicial remedies including through the European Court of Human Rights, and should be developed through a consultative and democratic process in which children have a say in these rights that affect them.
The UK Government and devolved administrations should invest the required level of funding in child and adolescent mental health services to meet the needs of children in need of such support. Particular attention should be given to those at greatest risk, including disabled children, children deprived of parental care, children affected by conflict, trauma, abuse and neglect, those living in poverty and those in conflict with the law.