By Sue Jones
The Children’s Commissioner has criticised the Conservative’s tax credits cuts and called for measures to reduce the impact the changes will have on the poorest children.
Anne Longfield OBE, who was appointed last November, taking up her role on 1 March 2015, is calling on the government to exempt 800,000 children under five from tax credit cuts and to offer additional support to families with a child under five-years of age.
The role of Children’s Commissioner was established under Labour’s Children Act in 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner’s work must take regard of children’s rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.
I reported last year that the Children’s Commissioner (then Maggie Atkinson) had already warned the government that the UK is in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As Chancellor George Osborne prepared his mid-term (Autumn) budget statement last year, the government’s Children’s Commissioner for England published a report criticising the Coalition’s austerity policies, which have reduced the incomes of the poorest families by up to 10 percent since 2010.
The Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.
Another report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission at the time indicated some very worrying trends regarding decreasing living standards, increasing employment insecurity and low pay, and the return of significant, rising levels of absolute child poverty not seen in the UK since the advent of the welfare state. Until now. (See the findings from the State of the Nation report.)
Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner, said: “Nobody is saying that there isn’t a deficit to close.
“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.”
Dr Atkinson added that this means the UK has broken the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which each country is obliged to protect children from the detrimental consequences of economic policies.
The Commissioner condemned the government for placing undue financial pressures on poorer parents, despite being one of the most developed countries in the world.
However, the government rejected the findings of what they deemed the “partial, selective and misleading” Children’s Commissioner report.
The children’s commissioner has again written to the Chancellor to call for children in the poorest families aged under five to be protected from the cuts.
However, Osborne is pretty unrepentant, yesterday he warned the House of Lords not to “second guess” the Commons on “financial matters.” He even went so far as to claim the cuts had been endorsed at the general election, which of course is untrue.
The Conservatives have threatened the House of Lords with a constitutional shake-up show-down if they continue to oppose the tax credit cuts. It’s highly unlikely that the Conservatives will back down over the tax credit cuts.
A damning joint report, written by the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s – examination of the UK’s Fifth Periodic Report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), dated 14 August 2015 – says:
“The Children’s Commissioners are concerned that the UK State Party’s response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 UNCRC.
“The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children’s views were not sought.
“Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.
“In some parts of the UK there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation.
“Austerity measures have reduced provision of a range of services that protect and fulfil children’s rights including health and child and adolescent mental health services; education; early years; preventive and early intervention services; and youth services.
“The Commissioners are also seriously concerned at the impact of systematic reductions to legal advice, assistance and representation for children and their parents/carers in important areas such as prison law; immigration; private family law; and education. This means that children are denied access to remedies where their rights have been breached.”
The report is also highly critical of the Government’s proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.
“The Commissioners are also concerned at the future of the human rights settlement in the United Kingdom due to the UK Government’s intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law; replace it with a British Bill of Rights (the contents of which are yet to be announced), and ‘break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights’.
“The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR.
“The Commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive.”