The four UK children’s commissioners have joined forces to urge the Government to halt its programme of benefit cuts to prevent more young people being pushed into poverty.
The commissioners, including Northern Ireland’s Koulla Yiasouma, said child poverty rates across the UK were “unacceptably high” and that there had been a failure to protect those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
In a joint report to the United Nations, the commissioners also voiced concern at the impact on children of the Government’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) – which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in UK law – and replace it with a British bill of rights.
“The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR,” it said.
“The commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive.”
Their intervention – just a week before Chancellor George Osborne delivers a Budget in which he is expected to set out further details of the Government’s plans to cut another £12 billion from the welfare bill – is likely to anger ministers.
In their report reviewing the past seven years, the commissioners said the Government’s “austerity” policies adopted in response to the global financial crisis had resulted in “a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty”.
“The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children’s views were not sought,” the report said.
“Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.
“In some parts of the UK there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation.”
The commissioners also highlighted concerns over failures to tackle child abuse, the treatment of young people in the criminal justice system and the provision of mental health services for children and young people which they said were “vastly underfunded”.
They pointed to a recent forecast from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggesting the number of children living in poverty could more than double from 2.3 million to 4.7 million by 2020.