Government welfare reforms and cuts in financial support for poor working families is putting the UK in breach of its United Nations (UN) obligations, says the Children’s Commissioner.
In a damning new report to be published ahead of George Osborne’s autumn statement, Dr Maggie Atkinson says government measures to reduce the deficit have disproportionately hurt children from poor families.
Single parents and poor families have been hit the hardest by government spending cuts, with incomes falling by an average of 10% since the coalition took office in 2010.
Rising inequality means the UK has failed in its duty to protect poor children from the worst of austerity, meaning the government could now be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Speaking to the Independent newspaper Dr Atkinson acknowledged the need to reduce the deficit. But added: “Our issue is that at the moment, it is the poorest in society who have least to fall back on that are paying the greatest price for trying to close that deficit.
“It is patently unfair. It is patently against the rights of the child”, she said.
The report will be examined by the UN to investigate whether the UK is in compliance with the Convention. Dr Atkinson said unless the government changes its position of expecting the poorest to shoulder the greatest burden, the UN’s response would be “very, very damning”.
Dr Atkinson told the Independent: “The basic fact is that there are families living in the fifth-biggest economy in the Western world who are making choices about whether they can afford to heat their house or feed their children”.
“We need as a nation to decide whether we are in the business of making the poorest pay the highest penalty when there is a gap between what the country has in its coffers and what its expenses are.”
She added: “The difference in outcomes and life expectancy between children raised in low income and wealthy families is scandalous.”
The report also says tax breaks for married couples and other income tax measures do not reduce poverty or inequality and “discriminate against children of lone parents.”
“The most vulnerable, disabled children and those in single-parent families, have been hit hardest”, said Dr Atkinson.
Labour MP Cathy Jamieson said: “This is a damning report on David Cameron and George Osborne’s record.”
However, the Treasury dismissed the report as “misleading” and “selective”. A spokesperson said the government is “tackling the root causes of child poverty, by putting more people in work than ever before and reducing the number of children in workless families by around 390,000 since 2010″.
George Osborne is expected to pledge a further £12 billion in welfare spending cuts to fund a tax giveaway.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, George Osborne said: “We have got to make tough decisions on public expenditure, on our welfare budget. That is how we can afford these things”.