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'Children suffer' under austerity

Children have suffered disproportionately from the Government's austerity measures, a committee of MPs and peers has found.

The committee said there was evidence that specific pieces of legislation "run directly counter to the principle of protecting the most disadvantaged", highlighting the decision to restrict rises in working-age benefits to 1% while allowing other payments including pensions to rise in line with inflation.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights found that migrant children and those from low-income families had been hit by cuts in benefits and the provision of services.

In a report on the Government's compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the committee said: "All the evidence with which we have been presented during this short inquiry points to the fact that the impact on children of this current period of austerity has been greater than for many other groups.

"Certain categories of children may have been protected from the worst impacts of austerity, but other groups - in particular migrant children, whether unaccompanied or not, and children in low-income families - have been hit by cuts in benefits and in the provision of services."

The committee acknowledged that some impact from austerity measures "may have been inevitable", but added: "We are disappointed that children - in particular, disadvantaged children - have in certain areas suffered disproportionately."

It also said that the Government's reforms to legal aid had been a " significant black mark on its human rights record".

The committee acknowledged that ministers had addressed their concerns in a "few discrete areas", but the evidence from former children's commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson and charities " provides firm grounds for a new government of whatever make-up to look again at these reforms and to undo some of the harm they have caused to children".

The MPs and peers also raised concerns about the use of force in the secure college scheme for young offenders, claiming it would breach the UN convention.

"We remain very concerned about the use of force on children in custody and believe that the recent provisions with regard to secure colleges in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act cannot be considered compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," the report said.

The committee called on the next government to review the legal definition of the age of a child in the UK to deal with a lack of consistency.

The parliamentarians called for ministers to consider giving the children's commissioner for England the same powers to examine individual cases as the equivalent officers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

The committee also recommended that the post of children's minister should be a Cabinet-level role.

Committee chairman Hywel Francis said: "The 2010 commitment by the Government to have due regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when making policy and law was a bold and welcome step.

"In many areas things have improved for children over this parliament as a result, although the momentum set in train in 2010 has slowed considerably in some areas.

"We hope the new Government will renew that commitment and that our successor committee will monitor how children's rights are fully taken into account in new law and policy."


From Belfast Telegraph