Do Tory benefit cuts impact on children’s rights?

A new report suggests that young people identify several infringements of their rights in George Osborne's economic policies.

A new report suggests that young people identify several infringements of their rights in George Osborne’s economic policies

On 28 November, the Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson published a highly critical report into the effects of George Osborne’s deficit reduction policies on children from poor families.

The report used the 2013 Autumn statement and 2014 budget as a basis for defining the policies.

The report suggests that some of the chancellor’s cuts have put the UK in breach of parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which requires signatories to protect children from the damaging effects of economic policies.

In the course of the research, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) interviewed 40 children aged between nine and 15, 11 young people aged 16 to 20, and 19 parents/carers.

They used articles from the UNCRC as prompts for a discussion about how changes in tax, benefits and public spending might influence the future of these people.

The report found that the group considered a failure to increase benefits in line with inflation as having a negative impact on the rights of children and young people.

This is because proposals to keep benefits at a pre-inflation rate mean that families have reduced money to spend on food, heating, clothing and family recreational activities, thus impacting negatively on Articles 1/2, 3, 6, 18, 23, 24, 26 and 27 of the UNCRC.

Participants expressed particular concern about families who needed benefits because of disabilities, who may not be able to work to compensate for reductions in benefits.

Some families found that parents had to work longer hours to compensate for the lack of proper benefits, meaning that the time they had available to spend with their children was reduced.

This could constitute an infringement of Article 31, which states that ‘every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.’

There was also some concern among young people that the bedroom tax affected the right to privacy as laid out in Article 16: “14 or 15 [years old] is too old to be sharing a bedroom, you really need some privacy by that age”.

There was a general consensus among the group that, “It’s the government’s responsibility to put up benefits in line with inflation so that people don’t get poorer”.

The introduction of free school meals for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 was considered to support the rights of children and young. However, the lack of free school meals when children reach Year 3 was seen to be detrimental for children in cases where parents could not afford to pay for meals.

Asked how the government might improve the rights of young people and children, the youngest age group suggested funding for local leisure centres, measures to prevent people from being homeless and measures to make the local community a safe place to be.

The middle age group (16-20) suggested resources and facilities within local communities, such as libraries, parks, leisure facilities and community centres, as well as sufficient income for families, in the form of benefits if neccessary.

Parents and carers suggested that adherence to the UNCRC could be improved by cheaper travel, a higher minimum wage, affordable leisure, after school enrichment clubs and ‘good teachers’ and resources in schools.

The report will be considered by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016, when it examines the UK’s performance against the Convention.

The report has been dismissed by the Treasury as “partial, selective and misleading”.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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