97 children’s charities warn the UN that children’s rights have worsened in England

In a new report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as part of its examination of the UK, 97 children’s charities from across England warn that critical children’s rights issues must be urgently addressed by the UK Government to prevent worsening impacts on the most vulnerable children. You can read a summary of the report here.

Led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), it sets out civil society’s assessment of how well the UK is respecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and reveals that, due to Government failures, children’s rights have worsened in many areas since the UN’s last examination in 2016.

Although there have been some improvements, the report concludes that children remain worryingly low on the political agenda in England. Despite some progress to embed children’s rights in UK Government decision-making, their rights and voices are regularly overlooked. England is lagging behind other parts of the UK in taking forward its child rights obligations, with growing anti-rights rhetoric and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act presenting a grave and immediate threat to the rights of all children.

Sadly, the report shows the Covid-19 pandemic impacted every area of children’s lives and exacerbated many existing inequalities, for example, those in poverty falling further behind their peers at school and worsening mental health. The current cost-of-living crisis is now putting children and their families under the most unprecedented financial strain of a generation and intensifying the effects of child poverty, which has increased since 2016 to 3.9 million, driven by regressive welfare policies that fail to take account of children’s best interests. Yet despite this, there is still no UK Government strategy or binding targets to address child poverty.

The report also highlights that significant discrimination and structural inequalities persist for Black, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children across many aspects of their lives. They are more likely to be excluded from school and racial disproportionality continues in children’s interaction with the police and the youth justice system.

The charities are calling on the UK Government to commit to addressing the UN Committee’s recommendations by developing a robust children’s rights action plan that will ensure rights are respected in all areas of children’s lives and that they get the bright future they are entitled to.

Concerning issues highlighted in the report include:

  • The negative impact of austerity policies on cuts to children’s services have become clearer. Despite some positive developments to children’s social care legislation and the Government’s acceptance of many of the recommendations in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, funding for children’s and youth services have been heavily cut, while the number of children needing care or protection has risen. Although recent funding commitments are welcome, this is not nearly enough to reverse over a decade of underfunding.
  • Although there is greater recognition of children’s mental health issues, and how this impacts across all areas of their lives, alongside some welcome investment, the sharp increase in the number of children with mental health problems, exacerbated by the pandemic, means that children often struggle to access services due to high thresholds and long waiting times. 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years in 2022 had a mental health problem.
  • Violence against children in institutions, as well as police use of force, remains troublingly prevalent. Some of our most vulnerable children, including those in prison or in mental health inpatient units, and children with SEND, frequently experience restraint and other restrictive practices and use of isolation, including in school. 
  • There has been severe regression in relation to protecting the rights of children in the asylum system, most recently through measures in the Nationality and Borders Act and children being housed in hotels, which has resulted in many going missing and being trafficked.

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law:
“Our report plainly shows that children in the UK are being failed across many aspects of their lives. The Government must take urgent action to place children at the heart of its decision-making by publishing a children’s rights action plan, with a clear road map for how it will meaningfully improve the daily experiences of our most vulnerable children. It must also embed children’s rights into domestic law to ensure we don’t fall further behind progress being made in Scotland and Wales.”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB):
“Even before the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic, increasing numbers of children – from the early years to adulthood – suffer serious mental health problems that require referral to specialist services. Yet despite some additional funding and Government commitments to improve access, record numbers of children and young people in crisis remain on waiting lists for help. These children, many of whom are already at considerable disadvantage, need to be front and centre of a fully funded Children’s Mental Health Strategy. Anything less will undermine the emotional wellbeing of a generation.”

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group:
“Almost 4 million UK children are in poverty but the Government’s policy response to the cost-of-living crisis has ignored children’s needs. Today’s damning report shows that children’s right to health and wellbeing is being undermined by the Government’s inertia. Ministers can and must take steps now to tackle child poverty, ensure social security support reflects the actual costs of having kids, and prevent a generation of children from being condemned to the life-long impacts of poverty.”

Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram:
"All children deserve to have their rights respected and protected, including the children of migrants, children who came to the UK seeking safety, and children who were brought to the UK as victims of trafficking. This report shows the precipitous decline in the rights of non-British children in the UK; this unacceptable erosion of children's rights must end here."

Saqib Deshmukh, Interim Chief Executive of the Alliance for Youth Justice:  
“A perfect storm laid bare in this report risks more vulnerable children ending up needlessly harmed by contact with police and the criminal justice system. Institutional racism and discrimination continue to shape children’s entrance to and experiences of the youth justice system. Despite dire conditions, children continue to be sent to custody not as a last resort, and new laws will see many locked up for longer. As inequalities widen, injustices persist, and the government sleepwalks into crisis, this report must act as a wake-up call for the protection and promotion of children’s rights."

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society:
“This report comes as no surprise. Years of cuts to children’s services have left far too many young people unable to access the right support and help.

“With even more British and migrant children affected by abuse and open to criminal exploitation, it is essential that the Government takes action and invests in early help services to prevent the spiral into crisis, and creates laws that ensure vulnerable children are not treated as criminals but as victims of exploitation that need care and protection.”

Notes to editors

  1. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN on 20 November 1989 and was ratified by the UK Government in 1991. It applies to all children aged 17 and under and sets out the minimum standards for their treatment. See here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
  2. Every state that has ratified the CRC is required to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on how it is fulfilling its obligations under the Convention every 4-6 years.
  3. CRAE’s report is the Civil Society Alternative Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The final examination of the UK Government will take place in May 2023 with the final report by the UN Committee containing recommendations for the UK Government published in June 2023. For more information see: https://crae.org.uk/our-work/monitoring-compliance-childrens-rights/our-role-reporting
  4. The report is based on written and oral evidence from CRAE’s 100 members and additional analysis.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and Just for Kids Law
CRAE seeks the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Our vision is of a society where the human rights of all children are recognised and realised. CRAE merged into the charity Just for Kids Law in 2015.

Just for Kids Law is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued.

About the National Children’s Bureau (NCB)
For nearly 60 years, the National Children’s Bureau has worked to champion the rights of children and young people in the UK. We interrogate policy and uncover evidence to shape future legislation and develop more effective ways of supporting children and families. As a leading children’s charity, we take the voices of children to the heart of Government, bringing people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood for the UK. We are united for a better childhood.

About Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC)
Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), part of the Coram group of charities, is an independent charity working in the UK and around the world to protect and promote the rights of children. The Migrant Children’s Project at CCLC provides specialist advice and legal representation to migrant and refugee children and young people on a wide variety of issues related to immigration, asylum, care and services, as well as the publication of free legal information online and in guides; research and policy work; law reform; and training.

About Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
Child Poverty Action Group works on behalf of the more than one in four children in the UK growing up in poverty. It doesn’t have to be like this. We use our understanding of what causes poverty and the impact it has on children’s lives to campaign for policies that will prevent and solve poverty – for good. We and provide training, advice and information to make sure hard-up families get the financial support they need. We also carry out high profile legal work to establish and protect families’ rights.  

About the Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ)
The Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ) brings together over 75 organisations, advocating for and with children to drive positive change in youth justice in England and Wales. The AYJ brings together the expertise of its members and provide ways for them to influence policy and practice. The AYJ advocates for distinct systems, services and support that treat children as children - underpinned by social justice, children’s rights and a focus on positive long-term outcomes.

About The Children’s Society (TCS)
The Children's Society fights for the hope and happiness of young people when it's threatened by abuse, exploitation and neglect. We see the hope and courage in young people every day, and it inspires us to support them through their most serious life challenges.