The four children commissioners for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland said child poverty rates across the UK were "unacceptably high" and that there had been a failure to protect those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. In a joint report to the United Nations, the commissioners also voiced concern at the impact on children of the Government's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) - which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in UK law - and replace it with a British bill of rights.
"The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR," it said. "The commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive."
A week before Chancellor George Osborne delivers a Budget in which he is expected to set out further details of the Government's plans to cut another £12 billion from the welfare bill their report reviewing the past seven years, the commissioners said the Government's "austerity" policies adopted in response to the global financial crisis had resulted in "a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty…The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children's views were not sought."
The report said. "Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families. In some parts of the UK there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation." They pointed to a recent forecast from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggesting the number of children living in poverty could more than double from 2.3 million to 4.7 million by 2020. They said they were "deeply concerned" by reports the Government was now planning to scrap the Child Poverty Act which requires ministers to put in place measures to eradicate child poverty. It was also revealed in June that families with more than two children could lose child benefit under Tory plans to slash welfare budget.
The commissioners also highlighted concerns over failures to tackle child abuse, the treatment of young people in the criminal justice system and the provision of mental health services for children and young people which they said were "vastly underfunded".
Scotland's commissioner for children and young people, Tam Baillie, said the Government now needed to re-think its austerity plans for the sake of children across the UK. "It is deeply disturbing that the UK Government, aware of the current and future impact of its cuts, appears to be targeting the most vulnerable people in our society," he said. "The UK Government's austerity measures have condemned 2.3 million children into poverty and that number will increase if further proposed cuts are enacted. For one of the richest countries in the world, this is a policy of choice and it is a disgrace. It is avoidable and unacceptable."
Reporting on the situation in Wales, Ms Holland said: "It is deeply disappointing that I have to present a report to the UN which shows Wales having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK.” She said about 200,000 children in Wales lived in poverty. "Many families are struggling with a combination of low wages and high childcare, housing and heating costs. Wales now has more low-income working families living in poverty than there are non-working ones."