Legislative Scrutiny: Child Poverty Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Refugee Children's Consortium

  Members of the Refugee Children's Consortium work collaboratively to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee children are promoted, respected and met in accordance with the relevant domestic, regional and international standards.

  The Refugee Children's Consortium shares concerns expressed by Members of Parliament at Second Reading,[57] and highlighted by the Committee in its Press Notice,[58] that the Child Poverty Bill is inadequate for the task of eradicating child poverty because its provisions, as currently designed and drafted, fail to equally and fully address the socio-economic circumstances of all children in the United Kingdom. In particular, we are concerned to highlight the circumstances of separated children, and children in families, seeking asylum.

  In this submission, we briefly highlight:

    — specific inadequacies in the Bill's provisions;

    — incompatibilities with international human rights standards; and

    — poverty and deprivation facing children seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.


  The targets relating to child poverty set out at clauses 2 to 5 constitute the cornerstone of the Bill's provisions. Critical to the meaning and effect of these targets will be the regulations, under clause 6, defining which children and which households will count for the purposes of these targets. The Explanatory Notes indicate that the regulations will provide that the relevant definitions will essentially adopt the coverage of specified statistical surveys;[59] and confirm the greater prospect of certain groups being excluded,[60] as feared by Members of Parliament.

  The UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland strategies[61] are to address two purposes. Firstly, these must address the targets. Secondly, these must set out measures for:

    "... ensuring as far as possible that children in [the respective geographical areas] do not experience socio-economic disadvantage."

  Clause 15 requires that economic and fiscal circumstances must be taken into account when setting the strategies. At Second Reading, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury sought to quell concerns that clause 15 may interfere with the aim of eradicating child poverty by tempering the reach and ambition of the strategies. He did so by emphasising the absolute nature of the duty to meet the targets.[62] However, this is of no comfort in respect of groups who may be excluded from those targets. Poverty among those groups would only be addressed by the second limb of the strategies, and the reach and ambition of that limb could be put at risk by clause 15 because it is made contingent by the term "as far as possible".

  The Committee asks whether the duty to consult in clause 9 could be strengthened. If the targets do not apply fully and equally to all children, it is all the more important that the duty is strengthened so as to ensure that the strategies may be informed by the needs and experiences of those children to whom the targets do not apply. Clause 9, and indeed clause 22, should be strengthened by requiring consultation with children and organisational representatives of specified groups of children, including such children as will or are likely to be underrepresented or not represented within the targets such as separated children, and children in families, seeking asylum.

  Part 2 of the Bill provides for co-operation of local authorities and partner agencies to reduce child poverty. Clause 19(2) is inadequate by reason of the omission of the UK Border Agency from the list of partner agencies with whom local authorities must work to reduce child poverty. The jurisdiction of the UK Border Agency extends throughout the United Kingdom, and it has an immediate impact upon the socio-economic experiences of children by reason of its responsibilities in providing for financial support and accommodation to families seeking asylum, providing financial support to local authorities supporting separated children seeking asylum and in handling and deciding upon the immigration status of asylum-seekers.


  The Explanatory Notes acknowledge the potential for discrimination within the provisions of the Bill, in particular in respect of the targets.[63] The Government does not consider there to be any incompatibility with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights because that non-discrimination article does not stand alone. It requires that the other rights and freedoms set out in the Convention are to "be secured without discrimination", and the "Government considers that the link to Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol 1 is too tenuous [and the] high level nature of its provisions means that nothing in the Bill directly affects the rights of individuals ...".[64]

  The Government does not suggest that poverty and deprivation do not engage children's rights to respect for their private and family life[65] and the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.[66] Moreover, these conditions may also engage children's rights not to be subjected to degrading or inhuman treatment.[67]

  We question whether the Government's analysis is correct. The Bill sets out to achieve the eradication of poverty and deprivation of all children in the United Kingdom, and through targets, duties, strategies and inter-agency co-operation requires specific measures toward that goal. If specific groups of children, such as those seeking asylum, are excluded, largely or completely, from these measures, it is foreseeable that this will have the direct effect of prolonging their socio-economic disadvantage, poverty and deprivation.

  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the United Kingdom "adopt comprehensive plans of action for the implementation of the Convention".[68] The Explanatory Notes[69] indicate the Government's intention that the Bill should contribute to the realisation of Article 6 of the UN Convention.[70] The UN Committee also recommended that such plans "should pay special attention to children belonging to the most vulnerable groups",[71] and highlighted "asylum-seeking and refugee children" as among those groups it considered to be particularly vulnerable.[72] For the reasons explained above, we are concerned that the measures to be adopted by the Bill do not pay special attention to the most vulnerable, including children seeking asylum; and indeed may achieve the reverse by excluding, whether in part or in full, such children from the key measures whereby child poverty and deprivation is to be monitored and measured.

  We are surprised to note that the Explanatory Notes do not make reference to either Article 26[73] or Article 27[74] of the UN Convention, particularly given the reference to the UN Committee's welcoming of "the Government's commitment to end child poverty by 2020",[75] which is an express reference to paragraphs 64 and 65 of the UN Committee's report, which in turn constitute the UN Committee's consideration of those articles. We recall Article 2 of the UN Convention that "States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination". Children seeking asylum do not receive equal access to social security or recognition of their right to an adequate standard of living in that they and their families are expressly excluded from mainstream welfare,[76] and are provided support at reduced levels[77] which may, in certain circumstances, be withdrawn despite the inability of the family to support itself.[78] In the circumstances, it is all the more striking that this group of children may be wholly or partially excluded from the Bill's cornerstone provisions for monitoring and measuring poverty.

  Similar observations may be made in respect of Articles 2(1), 2(2) and 11 of the 1966 UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Joint Committee may also wish to consider rights which further relate to poverty and deprivation such as those in respect: Articles 23 and 24 of the UN Convention and Article 12 of the International Covenant.


  Several members of the Refugee Children's Consortium have previously highlighted poverty and deprivation facing children seeking asylum in evidence to the Joint Committee for its report on The Treatment of Asylum Seekers.[79] Barnardo's and The Children's Society, both of whom are members of the Consortium, published reports revealing shameful and shocking examples of poverty affecting children seeking asylum in the UK in 2008.[80] These revealed examples of children seeking asylum who were living in appalling conditions or homeless, and examples of children and their families who were not receiving welfare support to which they were entitled. More Token Gestures (2008), the Refugee Council's report into the experiences of people living on vouchers[81] because of barriers to their removal, revealed concerns about the lack of adequate diet for children leading to poor development.

  The legal and policy position has not changed since the publication of these reports. More recent reports, while not focusing exclusively on the situation of children seeking asylum, reveal that the socio-economic situation of this group of children has also not improved.[82] We are happy to provide case examples to illustrate some of the issues highlighted within this submission.


  The inadequacies in this Bill, which are highlighted in this submission, are profound. They raise significant questions of compatibility with the United Kingdom's international human rights obligations, and a substantial body of research into destitution in the asylum system reveals that children in that system are suffer profoundly from poverty and deprivation. Fundamental improvements to the Bill are, therefore, necessary to ensure that it fully addresses poverty among children and families seeking asylum, including:

    — revisiting the intended application of the targets;

    — specifically requiring consultation with children seeking asylum and organisations representing this group of children; and

    — adding the UK Border Agency to the list of partner agencies with whom local authorities are to co-operating in reducing child poverty.

September 2009

57   Hansard HC, 20 July 2009: Columns 628 (Sally Keeble MP), 642 (Julie Morgan MP) and 662-3 (Steve Drew MP). Back

58   Press Notice No 56 calling for evidence on the Bill. Back

59   Paragraphs 17 and 18. Back

60   Paragraph 137. Back

61   Clauses 8, 10 and 11 respectively. Back

62   Hansard HC, 20 July 2009: Column 678 (Stephen Timms MP). Back

63   Paragraph 137. Back

64   Paragraphs 138-9, Explanatory Notes. Back

65   Article 8. Back

66   Article 1 of Protocol 1. Back

67   Article 3 (and see R (Limbuela & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 56). Back

68   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding observations on United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Forty-ninth Session, 20 October 2008, paragraph 15. Back

69   Paragraphs 147-8. Back

70   UN Convention on the Rights of the Child-in particular Article 6.2, that "State Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child." Back

71   Paragraph 15 op citBack

72   Paragraph 25(b) op citBack

73   The right to benefit from social security. Back

74   The right to an adequate standard of living. Back

75   Paragraph 147, Explanatory Notes. Back

76   Eg Schedule 3, Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and section 115, Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Back

77   Under sections 4 and 95, Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Back

78   Section 9, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004. Back

79   Tenth Report of Session 2006-07, HL Paper 81 HC 60. Back

80   Barnardo's Like any other child: Children and families in the asylum system, January 2008; and The Children's Society living on the edge of despair: destitution amongst asylum seeking and refugee children, February 2008. Back

81   "More Token Gestures": A Refugee Council report into the use of vouchers for asylum seekers claiming Section 4 support [October 2008]. Back

82   Various reports are available on the website of the Still Human Still Here campaign, including Global Health Advocacy Project Four years later: Charging vulnerable migrants for NHS primary medical services, June 2009; Leicester Refugees and Asylum Seekers Voluntary Sector Forum Destitution in the asylum system, June 2009; The Asylum Support Partnership Second Destitution Tally, May 2009; and Refugee Survival Trust and The British Red Cross Destitution and the Asylum System: 21 days later, January 2009. Back

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