EHRC submits report to the UN on children's rights in Great Britain

By Agencies
November 23, 2020

In its latest report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has expressed significant concerns about how the pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities, and having a devastating impact on children’s rights, well-being and futures. Key concerns include more children being pushed into poverty, widening educational inequalities and worsening mental health.

The EHRC says poverty is one of the main barriers to the full enjoyment of children’s rights – living in poverty can have a negative impact on children’s health, well-being, education and development. Even before coronavirus the number of children living in poverty in Britain was increasing. However, the EHRC warns that more families now risk being pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic, and the groups who already faced poverty are likely to see their income reduced further. Families with children are among those who have been hit the hardest.

School closures and inequalities in home-learning environments also risk exacerbating growing attainment gaps for certain groups, including disabled pupils, some ethnic minorities, and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. The EHRC also warns that the shift to online learning risks undermining the right to education and may have a long-term effect on attainment. It also cites challenges affecting special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision in schools, with staff shortages, social distancing rules and the need to concentrate resources on the health emergency resulting in local authorities reducing SEND provision and, in some cases, ceasing it all together.

Although the effect of the pandemic on children’s mental health is not yet fully understood, the EHRC says that the combined impact of limited capacity within the mental health service and children being cut off from support at school, could be severe and long-lasting.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on all of us. However, the repercussions for children have extended into every single aspect of their lives, from their education, to their homes, their mental health, and much more. Every child matters; we want to see all our children thrive, develop and reach their potential; every child has rights, even during a pandemic.

“The decisions being made now to mitigate the impact of the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on our children’s futures. We are asking the Government to put children’s rights at the heart of its decision-making so that the next generation can be supported to overcome the challenges and barriers that 2020 has thrown up.”

The report contains an extensive set of recommendations for the UK and Welsh governments to enhance and protect children’s rights, including:

  • The UK and Welsh Governments should urgently conduct a critical analysis of the short and long-term impact of the pandemic on children, giving consideration to the compounding negative effects of the pandemic and the disproportionate impact on certain groups.
  • The UK Government should develop a comprehensive child poverty strategy for England. This should set out a clear action plan to eradicate child poverty and address the inequalities faced by children and young people that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, so the best interests of the child are taken as a primary consideration in such plans.
  • The UK Government’s coronavirus education recovery plan for England, which includes £1 billion worth of catch-up premiums for disadvantaged children, must provide individualised and targeted support for ethnic minority pupils and disabled pupils affected by the school closures.
  • The UK Government should address the concerns about funding of the SEND system in England, exacerbated by coronavirus, through the development of a long-term, sustainable funding package, with an emphasis on incentivising schools to be more inclusive.
  • Other areas of concern raised in the report include increased risk of abuse during the pandemic, worrying trends such as the high levels of violence experienced by children in the criminal justice system and the detention of children with autism and / or learning disabilities.

Commenting on the report, Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said: "We know that children have been the collateral damage of this pandemic. Whilst children largely become less unwell with COVID-19 than adults, the negative impacts of the pandemic have been far-reaching and risk scarring the life chances of a generation. On World Children’s Day, we are pleased to see this comprehensive report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission echo many of the calls to Government we have made making over the previous months and years.

"We agree that children’s rights must be put at the heart of future Government decision-making. Our RCPCH &Us Network of children and young people tell us that their rights are important to them. We are committed to ensuring their voices are heard in policy-making, in service design and planning, and in our clinics."

The report has been published ahead of the UK’s sixth periodic review by the UN of the UK and Welsh Governments’ records on children’s rights. The last review took place in 2016.

Children’s rights in Great Britain: submission to the UN is available in English and Welsh here

* The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health https://www.rcpch.ac.uk

* Equality and Human Rights Commission https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en

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