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United Nations has “serious concerns” about UK Government’s failure to prioritise children’s needs

The UK Government is not putting children at the heart of its policies, a coalition of charities warns, following a damning  United Nations report into children’s rights in the UK, published today (Thursday 9th June) [1].

Despite some progress from their last report in 2008, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child warns that the UK is not doing enough to prioritise children and give them the opportunity to fulfil their potential [2].The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), a collective of charities including Action for Children, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, Unicef UK, and others says that too often children bear the brunt of spending cuts and decisions are made without proper consideration of how they affect children.  

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

Yet the UN Committee said it is “Seriously concerned at the effects that recent fiscal policies and allocation of resources” have had and that they are “disproportionately affecting children in disadvantaged situations.” It calls on the UK to “introduce a statutory obligation’ to consider children’s needs “when developing laws and policies affecting children” and “adopt comprehensive action plans” to ensure children in the UK have the best start in life. 

The UN made over 150 recommendations to the UK Government, including that it must:

  • Urgently get to grips with the shocking numbers of children suffering mental health problems by developing a comprehensive strategy to make sure these children’s needs are not ignored and they can access vital services.
  • “Strictly implement” the ban on placing children and families in temporary accommodation, including B&Bs,  for longer than the six week legal limit. The UN highlighted the damaging long term impact on children’s health and educational outcomes of dirty, unsafe and overcrowded accommodation.
  • Further reduce the number of children in custody and tackle the disproportionate number of BAME children and children from care in the youth justice system.  It must also make immediate improvements to the treatment of children in custody, including stopping the use of solitary confinement and abolishing the use of deliberately painful restraint on children.
  • “Take all necessary measures to provide stability for children in care”, including increasing and retaining the number of social workers and avoiding unnecessary changes in placement and providing sufficient support for care leavers.
  • Review its asylum policy in order to help unaccompanied and separated children reunite with their family from both within and outside the UK.

With the Prime Minister’s life chances strategy due this summer, the Government must address the issues raised by the UN, and put children at the centre of Government decision making by appointing a senior Cabinet level minister with responsibility for children’s rights.

Renee (17), a young person working with CRAE [3] said:

“We’re not just statistics and figures. We are very real children, with very real issues whose needs should be protected. I spent two years living in temporary accommodation, in dirty cramped conditions, and I have spoken to other children with identical stories to mine or, in some cases, even worse. The legal limit is meant to be six weeks. Children’s rights prevent these and many other injustices happening to children. We want to see change. The Government must act on the UN recommendations.”  

Louise King, Director of CRAE 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. We want the Government to show leadership and take concerted action to address the UN’s concerns. To ensure a fresh focus on children, a senior, Cabinet-level minister must be given responsibility for putting children’s rights where they should be – at the heart of all government decision-making. ”   

Kate Mulley, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children said:

“The UN’s recent report shows that the UK is still not putting children’s rights at the root of every decision.

Today’s findings highlight the difficulties some of our most vulnerable children face in accessing mental health support. We know that high quality care is fundamental to helping children recover from the impact of experiences like severe abuse and neglect, and every child has the right to receive this.

The Children and Social Work Bill is a chance to address this, but the Government must do more to answer the UN’s concerns.” 

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said:

“The UK must do much better in putting children’s interests at the heart of its decisions. Too many times their voices aren’t heard and decisions are driven by restrictions on funding, instead of what’s best for the child.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a happy and stable home. Too many children in care are being moved around, making it impossible for them to build meaningful relationships and give them a sense of family and belonging.

“Local authorities must open up resources to ensure that children are matched with the right families and that foster carers can get support for challenging times.”

Peter Grigg, Director of External Affairs at The Children’s Society, said:

“The UN has rightly recognised that far too many UK children are living in poverty, and this number is only set to rise as the Government’s punishing welfare cuts begin to bite. If the Government is serious about improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families, it must take the UN’s recommendations on board. This includes setting clear targets for tackling child poverty, regular monitoring and reporting and – crucially – reconsidering plans to cut or freeze key benefits.”

Frances Trevena, Head of Policy and Programmes, Coram Children's Legal Centre said:

“Access to justice is fundamental to enforce children’s rights. Children, young people and those caring for them should be provided with accessible and properly funded legal services.  We hope that the Government consider the concluding observations of the UNCRC and will begin a review of the legal aid provisions that they committed to in 2012 when legal aid was restricted. We also believe that the Government should make no further attempts to introduce an unjustifiably discriminatory residence rest for legal aid”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau said:

“Today’s concluding observations from the committee highlight the uncomfortable truth that currently, not all children in this country are able to enjoy the human rights they are entitled to. The UK should be the best place in the world for children to grow up in, yet these findings show that we are falling short of the mark.’

‘Currently, the right to good health and healthcare is being undermined for those children in or leaving care, who are already at increased risk of poor physical and mental health. NCB strongly welcomes the committee’s recommendation for rigorous CAMHS strategies which pay particular attention to children in care. We would like to see the corporate parenting principles, introduced in the government’s Children and Social Work Bill, extended to those overseeing health services, ensuring that every child in the care system has the very best support to address their physical and mental health challenges”

Unicef UK Deputy Executive Director Lily Caprani said:

“The UN Committee is right to say that the Government must do more to ensure children fleeing conflict and persecution can be reunited with their families in the UK. Amid the biggest refugee crisis Europe has seen since the Second World War, children are facing unprecedented risks of violence, abuse and exploitation as they try to reach the safety of family waiting for them in the UK. The Government needs to speed up the existing family reunion procedures and widen UK immigration rules to work in the best interests of children.”


Please contact Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England on 0203 174 2279 or 07890 583 512

Notes to editors                     

[1]The UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1991, yet there’s still no cross-government strategy to implement children’s rights or a senior government minister with responsibility for children’s rights.

[2] By ratifying the UNCRC, a State agrees to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child – an independent body of child rights experts – regularly examining its progress on implementation.  The UK’s examination of the 5th periodic report of the UK took place at the 72nd session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on 23th and 24th May 2016.  The UN report is available hereThe UK was last examined by the UN Committee in 2008.

[3] Renee is a member of CRAE’s See it, Say it, Change it, project steering group. See it, Say it, Change itsupports children and young people in England to tell their side of the story on how well their rights are being respected. A steering group made up of 20 children and young people aged between five and 19 years old from across England is helping to run the project. This diverse group includes children and young people whose rights are most at risk, for example, those facing homelessness or living in care. The steering group are both helping to run the project and have carried out research with children and young people from across the country to find out how well their rights are being met. The children’s research was submitted to the UN as part of the examination and members of the Steering group attended oral evidence sessions with the UN Committee and attended the UK examination in May.  

 [4] The Children’s Rights Alliance for England believes that human rights are a powerful tool in making life better for children. We’re one charity working with over 150 organisational and individual members to promote children’s rights, making us one of the biggest children’s rights coalitions in the world. We fight for children’s rights by listening to what children 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.

Thursday, June 09, 2016 ← Return to listing