Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Save the Children


  1. Save the Children fights for vulnerable children in the UK and around the world who suffer from poverty, disease, injustice and violence. We work with them to find lifelong answers to the problems they face.

2. We work to ensure that the rights of children in the UK are protected, promoted and respected in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international human rights instruments.


  3.  The UN Committee on the Rights (the Committee) published its Concluding Observations on the UK in October 2008.[460] While the Committee highlights a number of positive developments, it also raises a large number of concerns and makes over 120 recommendations for action.

4.  Save the Children welcomes the Ministerial statement made on 7 October 2008, which broadly welcomes the Concluding Observations and makes a commitment to give them "the careful consideration they deserve".[461] However, we are disappointed by the UK Government's more detailed response set out in "The Children's Plan—A Progress Report" published in December 2008.[462]

  5.  The Progress Report sets out the UK Government's priorities in taking forward the Committee's recommendations in relation to issues which concern England or are non-devolved. However, it is not clear what rationale has been used for prioritising the recommendations and what the Government intends to do (if anything) to address the recommendations which have not been prioritised.

  6.  Despite reiterating the UK Government's commitment to the UNCRC and stating that the Concluding Observations "provide a helpful framework for further action by Government ... to make children's rights under the Convention a reality", the action proposed will only address a small number of the Committee's recommendations. Even where action is proposed this is not always adequate to fully address the recommendation.

  7.  This does not adhere to the Committee's recommendation that the UK Government "take all necessary measures to address those recommendations from the concluding observations of the previous report that have not yet—or not sufficiently—been implemented as well as those contained in the present concluding observations".[463]

  8.  The UK Government also gives a false impression of the Committee's view of the Children's Plan, implying that it is considered to be an adequate national action plan on UNCRC implementation. While the UN Committee welcomes the Children's Plan, it raises concern that the UNCRC is not regularly used as the framework for developing polices within the UK and calls for a comprehensive UNCRC implementation plan.[464]

  9.  In contrast the devolved governments are proposing comprehensive action to address the Committee's recommendations. The Scottish Government is currently consulting widely on their response to the Concluding Observations, which includes 142 recommendations for action[465] and will publish an implementation plan in May. The Welsh Assembly Government has committed to developing a five year National Children's Rights Action Plan and is holding a conference in March to give stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the concluding observations and contribute to the Plan.

  10.  Save the Children would like to see urgent action taken by the UK Government to ensure that it fully implements the UNCRC and addresses ALL the recommendations made by the Committee.

  11.  To this end, the Government must ensure that it initially takes forward the Committee's recommendations which relate to the "General Measures of Implementation". The "General Measures" relate to the articles of the UNCRC which set out action to be taken by States to ensure that the UNCRC is fully implemented.[466]

  12.  In particular Save the Children recommends that the UK Government:

    — Publishes a detailed UNCRC implementation Action Plan, which includes how it will address all the Committee's recommendations, including all previous recommendations.

    — Brings legislation in to line with the UNCRC.

    — Disaggregates sectoral and total budgets across the State Party to show the proportion spent on children.

    — Ensures the involvement of civil society, including children, in the implementation of the UNCRC and the follow-up of the Concluding Observations.

    — Strengthens its efforts to ensure that the all the provisions of the UNCRC are widely known.

    — Takes the opportunity of the upcoming British Bill of Rights to incorporate the principles and provisions of the UNCRC into domestic law.


Discrimination against children in education

School exclusions

  13.  Despite noting the "numerous efforts of the State Party in the sphere of education",[467] the Committee raises a number of areas in need of improvement. In relation to school exclusions, the Committee raises concern about: the high number of permanent and temporary school exclusions; that certain groups of children are disproportionately excluded compared to their peers; inadequate participation rights; and the absence of a child's right to appeal their exclusion.[468]

14.  Save the Children shares these concerns. High numbers of children in England continue to be excluded[469] and despite some positive initiatives such as Aiming High[470] and Public Service Agreements 10 and 11,[471] school exclusions continue to disproportionally affect particular groups of children, for example, males of Caribbean ethnicity are three times more likely to be excluded from school;[472] and pupils who have special educational needs account for 55% of all exclusions.[473]

15.  The consequences of exclusion for children and wider society are stark, for example, fewer than 15% of permanently excluded children return to mainstream education;[474] one out of three excluded children become NEET at 16 (not in education, employment or training);[475] and the overall annual cost to society of school exclusions has been estimated at between £406 million[476] and £650 million.[477]

16.  The Committee set out a number of recommendations relating to exclusions: permanent and temporary exclusions should only be used as a last resort; the number of exclusions should be reduced; children who are able to express their views should have appeal rights against their exclusion; and all children out of school should have an alternative quality education.[478]

  17.  The Progress Report sets out the UK Government's expectation that all secondary schools are in behaviour partnerships with a shared commitment to work together to improve behaviour, tackle persistent absence and improve outcomes for children with challenging behaviour. A key principle of the partnership is to intervene early where a child is at risk of exclusion with the specific aim to reduce exclusions. Save the Children welcomes this aim and urges behaviour partnerships to address the over-representation of particular groups of excluded children.

  18.  The UK Government has recently committed £26.5 million over the next three years for piloting new forms of alternative educational provision for excluded children. However, despite this welcome commitment, in September 2008, just prior to the Committee's recommendations, the UK Government published revised guidance on exclusions.[479] This guidance does not fully address the Committee's recommendation to provide alternative education to those excluded as it only places a duty on local authorities to provide provision from day six after the exclusion, rather than from day one. The guidance also fails to mention the particular needs of excluded primary school age children.

  19.  The Education and Skills Act 2008 requires all governing bodies of maintained schools to "invite and consider pupils' views". Following this change to the law the exclusions guidance was amended and advised schools that children should be allowed and encouraged to attend exclusion hearings and to speak on their own behalf, subject to their age and understanding. Although this is a positive step forward, it will not guarantee that children will have their views taken into account nor replace the need for a statutory right to appeal.

  20.  After consulting with children about their participation in the exclusion process, Save the Children ran a three-year independent advocacy project in England—EAR to Listen—from 2005-08. This initiative targeted early intervention at children most at risk of exclusion and worked with those who had been excluded to support them to remain in or re-enter education.

  21.  Many children told us that they felt the exclusion process was something that happened to and around them and that the core "problem" was only shifted and not addressed.[480] This contrasts with Scotland and Wales where children have the right to participate in the exclusion process.[481]

  22.  Our independent advocacy project had an 80% success rate in supporting children at risk of exclusion, or who had been excluded, to re-enter, re-engage or remain in education. Children told us that having an advocate to speak on their behalf or to help them communicate their views, made them feel included in decisions regarding their education and more encouraged to find positive solutions to the problems they were facing.

  23.  Save the Children urges the UK Government to take the opportunity of its forthcoming review into the exclusion appeals process to introduce a statutory right to appeal for all children and ensure that children's views are fully taken into account in line with article 12 of the UNCRC.[482]

  24.  Save the Children recommends that the UK Government:

    — Addresses all the Committee's recommendations in relation to exclusions.

    — Establishes independent education advocates in every local authority in England which can advocate on a child's behalf or help them communicate their views.

Poor educational outcomes for children living in poverty

  25.  The Committee recommends that the UK Government "strengthen its efforts to reduce the effects of the social background of children in their achievement in school".[483] We agree. Children living in poverty have lower levels of attainment than their peers and are more likely to leave school without qualifications.[484] Focusing resources on offsetting the impact of poverty is therefore crucial.

26.  A number of UK Government reforms, which aim to raise the achievement of all children, but with a particular emphasis on children living in poverty, will help to address this recommendation. These include: extending the co-operation duty of Children's Trusts to schools; introducing local authority-wide targets for pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSMs); and launching the City Challenge in three English cities, which aims to significantly reduce the numbers of underperforming schools and improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children over the next three years.

  27.  Despite the positive change evident in some local authorities and settings and a plethora of investment and initiatives, the underachievement of children living in poverty remains the norm, for example, of those children who qualify for FSMs, less than one in five is currently achieving five good GCSEs including English and Maths;[485] and just over 6% of pupils receiving FSMs remain at school to take A levels, compared to around 40% of students overall.[486]

  28.  Save the Children urges the UK Government to fully address the UN Committee's recommendation by:

    — Increasing investment in early years education to enable more fully funded places for disadvantaged children.

    — Ensuring that all low income families qualify for all free additional resources.

    — Removing barriers stopping deprivation funding reaching the most disadvantaged pupils at local authority and school level so that the maximum resources can be directed effectively.

    — Making sure that the policies and practice of all schools are "poverty proofed".

    — Introducing a "poverty proofing" standard for all schools and pupil referral units, which measures the success of narrowing the gap in educational outcomes between the poorest children and their peers.


  29.  Save the Children welcomes the UK Government's commitment to legislate to eradicate child poverty by 2020, which takes forward the UN Committee's recommendation.[487] A solid legislative framework will help to ensure that children have their right to an adequate standard of living realised.[488] In order for the legislation to be effective it must include the following:[489]

30.   Definition of "eradication of child poverty": The UK Government currently measures children experiencing relative low income, before housing costs, in three ways.[490] The Government has indicated that the UK should be among the best in Europe on the first two measures and that the third measures should approach zero. We agree. The relative low income target should be set at a precise numerical target of 5%[491] or below to ensure that the UK sets its ambitions at achieving the lowest, sustainable rate possible.

  31.   Focus on children living in severe and persistent poverty: Whilst fully supportive of the 60% median poverty threshold as the benchmark for assessing progress towards ending child poverty, Save the Children is concerned that a singular focus could have a negative impact on the most disadvantaged children.[492]

  32.  It is vital to ensure that the most disadvantaged children are not left behind.[493] The Work and Pensions Committee recommends in a recent inquiry that: "the national strategy on child poverty develops immediate policy initiatives to assist children in severe and persistent poverty and creates an explicit indicator against which progress can be measured". The UN Committee makes a similar recommendation.[494]

  33.   Statutory duties: Save the Children is concerned that different duties to end child poverty will exist throughout the UK. While we welcome the proposed UK-wide income targets used to define the "eradication" of child poverty and the proposed duty on the UK Government to publish a child poverty strategy, we are concerned that these will not cover devolved areas of policy and will only apply to Westminster. We are calling on each of the devolved administrations to introduce statutory duties to end child poverty by 2020 and to publish a child poverty strategy.

  34.  Annual progress reports, including data on the extent of child poverty and future priorities, must be published annually and laid before Parliament and the devolved assemblies.

  35.  All strategy documents must be comprehensive and prepared in consultation with the devolved administrations and delivery agencies and include specified interim dates by which steps or key milestones will be achieved. A duty on Government to publish strategy documents every three years and lay them before Parliament is also essential.

  36.   Link to Government spending decisions: The legislation must be linked to key UK Government spending decisions, including Comprehensive Spending Reviews, annual pre-budget reports and budgets, with sufficient resources agreed by Parliament. Achieving constant, sustainable progress on raising family incomes and narrowing the gaps in other outcomes will require adequate resources at both national and local level.

  37.   "Poverty-proofing" policies at both national and local levels: The UK Government must ensure a duty on all Whitehall departments and on local authorities to undertake and publish a poverty impact assessment of all policies. This should also be replicated across the devolved administrations.

  38.   Independent external scrutiny body: There must be a clear mechanism for independent scrutiny and engagement with stakeholders, including children living in poverty.[495] Legislation must require the UK Government to have regard to this body when setting or reviewing its 2020 strategy and producing progress reports.

  39.  Save the Children recommends that the Child Poverty Bill:

    — Is underpinned by the principles set out above, and in particular:

    — Focuses on families most in need.

    — Places a duty to eradicate child poverty on both the UK Government and the devolved administrations.


  40.  Save the Children is a member of Young Equals, which is campaigning to ensure comprehensive protection for children in the forthcoming Equality Bill. We endorse the evidence submitted by Young Equals.

February 2009

460   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Back

461   House of Commons Hansard, Volume 480, Part no. 140, Column 7W7, Ministerial written statements. Back

462   Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) The Children's Plan-A Progress Report. Back

463   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 7. Back

464   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 14. Back

465   See Back

466   The general measures of implementation relate to article 4, which sets out that State Parties must take "all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures" needed for the implementation of the rights set out in the UNCRC; article 42, which obliges States Parties to make the principles and provisions of the UNCRC widely known to adults and children and article 44.6, which states that States Parties should ensure that State Party and Committee reports are widely available to the public. Back

467   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 66. Back

468   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 65 (d). Back

469   In 2006-07, a total of 8,680 children were permanently excluded from school and 363,270 children were given fixed-term exclusions. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008), Permanent and Fixed Term Exclusions in Maintained Schools in England, 2006-2007 House of Commons written answer 3rd November 2008: Hansard Column 196W. Back

470   Department for Children, School and Families (2003) Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils. The project's aim was to raise standards for all young people whatever their ethnic or cultural background and ensure that all education policies truly address the needs of every pupil in every school. Back

471   PSAs 10 and 11 commit the Government to keeping all children on the path to success and narrow gaps in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Back

472   Ibid. Back

473   Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) Permanent and Fixed Term Exclusions in Maintained Schools in England, 2006-07. Back

474   H Daniels et al (2007) Study of Young People Permanently Excluded from Schools, Department for Education and Skills, 2003. Back

475   The Bow Group (2007) Invisible Children 2007. Back

476   Social Exclusion Unit (2001) Preventing School Exclusion1. Back

477   New Philanthropy Capital (2004) Misspent Youth. Back

478   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 6. Back

479   Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units. Back

480   Ibid. Back

481   In Scotland, the Age of Legal Capacity Act (1991) and the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act (2000) require that prior to intention to exclude a meeting to discuss an exclusion should be set up with a young person of legal capacity. In Wales, in January 2004, The Education (Pupil Exclusion and Appeals) (Maintained Schools) Regulations 2003 came into effect. These give children and young people registered at a secondary school or a Pupil Referral Unit the right to be informed in writing of their exclusion and the right to make representations to the governing body about their exclusion. Back

482   Article 12 of the UNCRC states that Governments shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. Back

483   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Paragraph 67. Back

484   Cassen, R and G Kingdon (2007) Tackling Low Educational Achievement, Case Paper 118, London: The Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion: London School of Economics. Back

485   Ibid. Back

486   Child Poverty Action Group (2008) 2 Skint 4 School. Back

487   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 65 (a). Back

488   Article 27 of the UNCRC. Back

489   These principles are based on those developed by End Child Poverty of which Save the Children is a member: End Child Poverty coalition statement of principles: Legislating for the eradication of child poverty by 2020. Back

490   (a) children living in a household whose annual income is below 60% of the contemporary median equivalised household income; (b) children living in a household that is both materially deprived and whose annual income is below 70% of the contemporary median equivalised household income; (c) children living in a household whose annual income is below 60% of the equivalised median income level in 1998-99, held constant in real terms. Back

491   The lowest historically in Europe has been 5%. Back

492   A recent report identified 1.3 million or 10.2% of children living in severe and persistent poverty, based on a household income of below 50% median and lacking at least three basic necessities (at least one adult and one child necessity) Middleton & Magadi (2007) Severe Child Poverty in the UK, SCUK. Back

493   According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in 1996-97, 11% of children were in severe poverty and in 2005-06 10.4% remained in severe poverty. Back

494   The UK Government must "give priority in this legislation and in the follow-up actions to those children and their families most in need of support." UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 65 (b). Back

495   In line with article 12 of the UNCRC. Back

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