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Children’s rights in England 2014: children bearing the brunt of austerity cuts

Children in England are experiencing the hard edge of austerity, with mounting threats to their basic human rights. The cumulative impact of cuts to services, the cost of living crisis, and changes to the welfare system, means some children in England are not having their basic needs for shelter and food met and can’t access the services which are supposed to support families, while many more are not able to enjoy a fulfilled and happy childhood.

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the blueprint for children’s human rights – the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - the 12th State of Children’s Rights in England report reveals that as a result of struggling services and squeezed families too many children are having their basic human rights breached.

The annual report, compiled by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), draws on hundreds of sources and responses to Freedom of Information requests to examine how children and young people are faring in all aspects of their lives.

Paola Uccellari, Director of CRAE said

“Children’s rights are the basic things children need to thrive - the right to an adequate standard of living, to an education, to be cared for and to play. Children’s rights should act as a safety net – meaning children always receive minimum standards of treatment whatever the changing economic climate.

Every child has a human right to a good start in life – an equal chance to do well at school, to be healthy and to be safe and cared for. Yet when you lay out the issues facing children in England in 2014, you cannot escape the conclusion that austerity and cuts to vital services are threatening children’s human rights. If a child is living in poverty, if they don’t have enough food and their family can’t afford suitable housing then their physical health, mental health and educational attainment all suffer.

Services which make sure children’s human rights are met – which support families, provide childcare, play schemes and youth groups - aren’t a luxury. They are essential to giving children a good start in life, to children’s ability to develop confidence and resilience and even to keeping children safe and well. They mean parents can work and are able to care for their children, and that children have a safe place to meet and play. Cutting these services is short-sighted, it will have a long term impact on children and society.”

Rising costs of living, depressed wages, cuts to in work and out of work benefits are having a serious impact on children’s lives.

  • Latest figures show that 31% of children in the UK are living in poverty, an increase of 3% since 2008. This is despite 63% of them living in a household where at least one person works.
  • 45% of households in fuel poverty are families with children, compared with 17% in 2008.
  • Families with children make up 65% of homeless households, and there was a 400% increase in families with children living in bed and breakfast accommodation between 2009 and 2014.
  • Almost all (96%) of the households affected by the benefits cap are families with children.
  • Poverty impacts upon a whole range of children’s health measures.

Families are at breaking point.

  • Families are under pressure, as costs go up, financial support from the state goes down, and services which are supposed to help are cut back.
  • The cost of childcare has gone up steeply since 2009 (27%) – more than a third of lone parents are having difficulty in funding childcare.
  • The services which are supposed to support families and keep children safe are also under pressure – the number of children referred to social services has gone up (by 9%) and there has been an increase in the number children with child protection needs (35%) since 2009-10. Care applications have risen 64% since 2008-09. But investment in “early intervention” services, which are supposed to stop families reaching this point, have been cut back (by 32% in 2011-12) and there has been a 20% cut in funding for children’s centres between 2012-13 and 2014-15.
  • Outcomes for children in care remain stubbornly poor.

Children have a human right to a fulfilling childhood and to develop to their full potential but the services which support this have been hit hard.

  • Across England there has been a 54% decrease in local authority funding for play between 2008-09 and 2014-15, with 3 local authorities who responded to CRAE’s Freedom of Information request reporting their budget for play had reduced to zero this year.
  • Responses to CRAE’s Freedom of Information request show that many local authorities have reduced their youth services budget by an average of 35% (as a proportion of local authority spending) between 2008-09 and 2014-15.

Disabled children are particularly vulnerable when services are cut.

A lack of financial and practical support for disabled children and their families mean that disabled children are not being properly supported to go to mainstream schools, are excluded from local services and recreational opportunities and, in some cases, their families are at breaking point, with children even entering care because of their disabilities. 

  • Only 28% of local authorities have enough childcare suitable for disabled children and only between 4% and 6% of disabled children are accessing youth services.
  • The proportion of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) attending special, rather than mainstream schools, increased from 37.5% to 40.5% between 2009 and 2014, and children with SEN made up the vast majority of children excluded from school (62%) in 2012-13.
  • In 2013-14, for 3% of looked after children their “category of need” was their disability.

The most vulnerable children get caught up in the criminal justice system, but their human rights when there are being ignored. Children across England are being Tasered and strip searched by police

  • CRAE’s Freedom of Information request shows that twice as many children were strip searched in 2013 than 2008. One of those children was 12.
  • Almost half the children are searched without an “appropriate adult” present, and half of those subjected to strip search were released without charge, suggesting they’d done nothing wrong in the first place.
  • The fifteen police forces which responded to a Freedom of Information request had used Tasers on 230 children in 2013, some as young as 13.
  • Responses to CRAE’s Freedom of Information request to police forces showed that black and Asian children are disproportionately being stopped and searched – 30% of all stops and searches are children in this group. Black children are over-represented in custody – making up 21% of the population in the youth secure estate.
  • Children in custody are those who have been let down earlier in life, meaning we are punishing disadvantage –  33% of boys in Young Offender Institutions had been in care, 19% said they have mental health problems, between 23% and 32% have a leaning disability. 


  1. 20th November 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the UN human rights treaty for children – the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK agreed to uphold the standards in the Convention in 1991. The UN Committee on the Right’s of the Child will examine the UK’s compliance with the Convention in 2015.
  2. The Children’s Rights Alliance for England is one charity working with over 100 organisational and individual members to promote children’s rights, making us one of the biggest children’s rights coalitions in the world. Our vision is a country that values and upholds every child’s human rights. We fight for children’s rights by listening to what they say, carrying out research to understand what children are going through and using the law to challenge those who violate children’s rights. We campaign for the people in power to change things for children. And we empower children and those who care about children to push for the changes that they want to see.
  3. CRAE's annual State of Children's Rights in England report draws on evidence from its member organisations, as well as official data and material obtained through Freedom of Information requests. This report does not reflect the views of our members, and not all our member organisations necessarily agree with the views expressed in the report.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 ← Return to listing