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

Memorandum submitted by UNICEF

  UNICEF is present in over 190 countries helping governments to improve the lives of children by embedding the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in policies and practice. UNICEF UK is the UK National Committee of UNICEF.

  2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the UNCRC, the most widely supported and ratified international human rights convention and the only one to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The UNCRC upholds that regardless of context and challenging circumstances children have the right to a voice, that they are by virtue of their status entitled to special protection, an identity, health, education and to live life free from burdens such as conflict and poverty.

  UNICEF's Report Card 7 ranked the UK lowest of 21 OECD countries for child wellbeing.[84] This was partly due to the UK having one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world. Action must therefore be taken on this issue in order to meet the rights of children in the UK. Furthermore, UNICEF Report Card 8, which focused on the crucial early years of a child's life, included a benchmark measurement of child poverty, at a rate of less than 10%. In failing to meet this measure of "minimum standards for protecting the rights of children in their most vulnerable and formative years",[85] the UK trailed behind other European nations.

  UNICEF UK agrees that the Child Poverty Bill presents a vital opportunity to enhance human rights, and specifically child rights, in the UK. These are rights to health, education, protection and development as an individual. Poverty is a barrier to the realisation of these rights.

  However UNICEF UK believes that in its current form the Bill does not go far enough; firstly in terms of setting ambitious targets which will ensure that every UK child can access their rights and live free from the burden of poverty; and secondly, in failing to explicitly acknowledge the duty of the UK Government under Article 4 of the UNCRC to commit the "maximum extent of their available resources" to reduce income inequality and eradicate child poverty.[86]

  Additionally, as this Bill deals mainly with targets, it is vital that the strategy reaches out to the most vulnerable and excluded children.

  Having ratified the UNCRC the UK Government committed itself to protecting and ensuring children's rights by all means available to them. This means ensuring and facilitating the development of children to meet their full potential.[87] The Bill presents an opportunity to set a framework for delivering this entitlement, and ensuring that child rights realisation in the UK is not conditional on familial financial status or macro economic circumstance. In October 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the high level of UK child poverty and manifest economic inequality, which have serious implications for children's life chances and negatively impact society and the economy. The Committee's analysis was that the Government could be doing more, through targeted financial investment, to further the rights of children in the UK; the Child Poverty Bill should therefore make explicit reference to this duty, and the Government should be scrutinised accordingly.


Definition of the term "Eradicate"

  Clause 2 of the Bill addresses reducing the proportion of children living in relative low income poverty and defines "eradication" as no more than 10% of children in poverty at one time. UNICEF UK is concerned that this will mean one in 10 children will remain in poverty, disadvantaged by inequality. By ratifying the UNCRC the Government has a duty to every child. The Government has previously asserted that they are committed to making the UK "the best place in the world for children to grow up"; yet they must acknowledge that this goal will not be realised until the UK is a trailblazer in setting high standards for eradicating poverty. A poverty rate of no more than 5%[88] on this measure would be needed for the UK to be in line with the best in Europe.[89] UNICEF UK therefore calls for the definition of successful eradication to be set at no more than 5% of children living in relative low income poverty.

Definition of "Child"

  Article 1 of the UNCRC states that: "a child means every human being below the age of 18".[90] UNICEF UK is therefore concerned that Clause 25 of the Bill defines "child" (for the purpose of the Bill) as persons under the age of 16 or qualifying for child benefit. UNICEF UK calls for an amendment to the Bill to ensure that the definition of "child" is, in accordance with the UNCRC, extended to include all persons under the age of 18.

Child Poverty Commission

  UNICEF welcomes the plans to establish a Child Poverty Commission and the profile and opportunity for scrutiny it will bring to this issue. UNICEF UK stresses that for this Commission to be most effective it should be independent, and the membership should include those with direct experience of living in poverty.

Measuring impact

  Given that every child is entitled to the same rights regardless of circumstance, UNICEF UK calls for the Bill and strategy to measure the impact of investment, policy and service provision on all children including those in vulnerable and challenging circumstances—for example those who may not be covered by data surveys on household income.


  In the consultation response to Ending Child Poverty: Making it Happen UNICEF UK asked that:

    "the voices of children and young people be heard at local, devolved and national levels, as part of the reporting process on delivery of the 2020 vision. This will provide insight on the impact of policies on subjective perceptions of well-being".[91]

  UNICEF UK therefore welcomes the Bill clauses that, in line with Article 12 of the UNCRC, place a duty on developing national and local strategies to consult with children when developing a child poverty eradication strategy.

The child in a family context

  Article 27 of the UNCRC places a duty on parents or guardians of children as having "primary responsibility to secure within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child's development". In accordance with Article 42 of the UNCRC the Government should make this responsibility known to adults. This should be done whilst raising the level of public knowledge about child poverty in the UK and should be presented in such a way as to encourage and support parents to access services as entitlements, rather than stigmatise poor families. It is important to note that the mentioned clause of Article 27 is qualified in terms of the financial contribution that parents or guardians can make, not in terms of the level of support to which every child is entitled. When parents are unable to provide for their child, the child should not suffer as a result—it is essential that the State steps up to this responsibility, to listen to parents and carers, and to work alongside them to deliver positive outcomes for the child.

  Article 27 goes on to say that States Parties should "take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right", "to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development ... and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing." This clearly mandates the Government to prioritise investment in children through financial support paid to parents, but also encourages spending in a more holistic way that is targeted to directly take into account the needs of the individual child. This allows for nationally and locally sensitive/responsive budgetary innovation which could include interventions such as free school meals or school uniform grants, as well as support with meeting housing, heating, caring and facilities costs. Article 27 should also be taken into account, alongside Article 4, when evaluating the impact of interventions; this should include subjective well-being reports from children living in poverty, but also take into account the views of carers and parents on the extent to which they feel they are supported and able to deliver their obligations under Article 27.

Economic and Fiscal Circumstances

  In our response to the Consultation on the Child Poverty legislation UNICEF UK stressed the importance of investment even in difficult economic times, particularly in light of the fact that child poverty costs the exchequer £25 billion a year.[92] UNICEF UK would like the Bill to reflect this.

  The negative impact of income inequality affects society as a whole and the UN has called on Governments to "ensure to the greatest possible extent, that expenditures that benefit children are protected and prioritised during both short-term and long-term economic and financial crises".[93]

  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently recommended to the UK Government that: "the State party, in accordance with Article 4 of the Convention, allocate the maximum extent of available resources for the implementation of children's rights, with a special focus on eradicating poverty and that it reduce inequalities across all jurisdictions ... Child rights impact assessments should be regularly conducted to evaluate how the allocation of budget is proportionate to the realization of policy developments and the implementation of legislation."[94]

  Given that the UK is one of the world's richest nations the Bill must be clear that a challenging economic climate is not an adequate reason for failing to commit adequate financial investment in children; or to renege on previous pledges. When the economic climate is at its most challenging the poorest are hit the hardest—it is therefore essential that the Government acts quickly to protect the rights of UK children and prevent them from suffering lifelong disadvantage as a result of a childhood burdened by poverty.

84   UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence, 2007. Back

85   UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence, 2008. Back

86   The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Back

87   UNCRC Articles 6, 29. Back

88   ?????? Back

89   The Child Poverty rate is below 5% in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden-OECD Family Database, 2008. Back

90   The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Back

91   UNICEF consultation response to Ending Child Poverty: Making it Happen, 2009. Back

92   Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2008. Back

93   United Nations Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the twenty-seventh special session on the Geneva Assembly in 2002. Back

94   Paragraph 19, The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations and Recommendations to the UK Government, October 2008. Back

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