On the 9th of June, the UN delivered its verdict on the UK’s record on children’s rights, stating it was "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.”
While the UN Committee saw signs of progress since it examined the UK almost 8 years ago, there was a clear message that the UK governments are falling short of the mark when it comes to ensuring all children enjoy the human rights afforded to them under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Here are seven actions we think the government must take to begin to address the children’s rights challenge.
- Put child poverty at the centre of the ‘life chances’ strategy
The Committee expressed serious concern at the continuing high levels of child poverty in this country, and the disproportionate impact on children already facing challenges such as disabled children and those from ethnic backgrounds. Poverty is one of the major barriers to the fulfilment of children’s rights in this country, so it would be unacceptable if the Prime Minister’s forthcoming ‘life chances’ strategy (and the measures used to assess progress) failed to put child poverty at its core.
- Exempt all children and pregnant women from health service charges
The health inequalities facing children in this country is a focus of the Committee’s report, with a recommendation that the government develop a comprehensive strategy for tackling health inequalities, particularly for migrant children. NCB’s report on public health services for refugee and migrant young children highlights the deterrent effect of charges for secondary (and in the future, primary) health services. The government must exempt children and pregnant women from all health charges, whatever their immigration status
- Get children out of police custody
It was welcome that the Committee expressed concern about the numbers of children locked up in police cells, telling government to get a move on with plans to prohibit the use of police custody for children in mental health crisis, as recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, supported by NCB. At the same time, the government must publish and promote its promised Concordat on the duty to transfer of children from police custody to local authority accommodation, and address the legal loophole that means that some children aren’t covered by this duty.
- Give mental health support to looked after children and care leavers
The Committee called for rigorous CAMHS strategies which pay particular attention to children in care. The government has an opportunity with its Children and Social Work Bill to put the needs of children in care at the heart of health commissioning; its new corporate parenting principles should apply to clinical commissioning groups and NHS England, as well as local authorities.
- Make PSHE and sex and relationships education statutory
A welcome recommendation from the Committee – echoing calls made by NCB, the Children’s Commissioner, Chief Medical Officer and leading Parliamentarians – was for mandatory sex and relationships education in all schools. Young people tell us time and again that they want better teaching on the essential topics covered within PSHE including sex and relationships, physical and mental health and bullying, so government must heed this call.
- Ensure no child is placed inappropriately in an in-patient assessment and treatment unit
The Committee told government it needs to put human rights at the heart of its strategy for disabled children and young people. An immediate first step would be to take action to reduce the numbers of children with learning disabilities living in an assessment and treatment unit. There are 165 such children, often placed far from home, with many experiencing hands-on restraint or seclusion. These children must be able to get the care and support they need in their local community.
- Establish a cross-government focus on children's rights
The Committee wants to see children’s rights at the heart of government decision-making. A cabinet-level children’s minister must be appointed to see this through, implementing a cross-government action plan to deliver on the Committee’s recommendations.
- And finally, one for the organisations working to improve children's lives through policy and legislative change
We must keep the UN Committee’s concluding observations alive, not put them in a box until 2022. We must use the Committee's findings and recommendations in our own advocacy and influencing work. We must tirelessly remind the UK government of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and shine a light when those obligations are not being met, or indeed being trampled upon.