Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is calling on the political parties fighting the General Election to put the spotlight on children’s issues, as she joins the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in publishing an assessment of the UK’s progress on children’s rights. This month marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a landmark agreement by governments around the world on the rights of the child.
The assessment by all four of Britain’s Children’s Commissioners looks at how the UK Government and devolved administrations have progressed towards giving every child the opportunities and protections enshrined in the UNCRC since then. It comes against a backdrop of political uncertainty and a forthcoming general election, with Brexit drawing political energy and attention away from domestic issues, including the needs of children.
Today’s assessment shows that some progress has been made, with plans in place across much of the UK to improve help for children with mental health needs, new measures for tackling Domestic Abuse, which affects hundreds of thousands of children a year, and Scotland passing legislation which bans physical punishment of children. The Commissioner also praises the UK promise to protect children online, with the introduction of the Age Appropriate Design Code.
However, the Children’s Commissioners also warn that recent changes to welfare have pushed more children into poverty, which in turn increases demand for services for children. Yet these services also continue to face significant funding pressures, and are not always able to provide the intensive or early help children need. The Commissioners warn that the UK Government and its devolved governments can only uphold the rights of all children to be safe and to thrive with adequate provision of these services.
The Commissioners also highlight serious deficiencies when it comes to the fundamentals of keeping children safe from violence and abuse. Some children are being ill-treated in institutions meant to care for them, and others are exposed to unacceptable risks in their communities. The Children’s Commissioners use their assessment to call for children’s rights to be respected, and for all children to be given the protections and opportunities to which they are entitled.
The Children’s Commissioner for England makes a number of specific demands to politicians fighting a General Election, including:
- The full, direct and urgent incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic law in England
- Increased funding for families in challenging circumstances and schools opened to communities outside normal school hours
- A trained NHS counsellor in every school and access to mental health support for every child who needs it
- Urgent action to reduce child poverty and homelessness
- Increased provision of high-quality care placements for children who cannot live at home
- Increased action to reduce the number of children entering secure care or custody, reductions in the use of restraint and seclusion and end to the use of pain-inducing restraint in youth custody.
- Protection for children at risk of serious violence
- Change the law so the ‘reasonable punishment’ defence for assaulting children no longer applies
- Adequate levels of funding for children with special needs
- A Cabinet Committee for children
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“The thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC is a moment to reflect and assess children’s rights in the UK. While some progress is undoubtedly being made, there are still serious concerns about the way we treat children in our country. Too often they remain an afterthought for politicians.
“Over the next few weeks, those who want to win power will talk a lot about issues like Brexit. But there are 12 million children in England who would like to hear what the next government will do to improve their lives. I want to see all the political parties signing up to proposals we have put forward in our children’s manifesto, which would protect the most vulnerable children as well as helping every child in England to thrive and do well in life.
“The millions of vulnerable children in England need to know that whoever wins the next election will not ignore their needs and will put the protection and advancement of children’s rights at the heart of their government.”