Together member: Children’s Parliament
Every child has the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development. Governments must help families who cannot afford to provide this.
“At the heart of children’s understanding of wellbeing is the family and life at home. Children need love, to be safe and to have basic needs of a home, a good diet, enough sleep, to play.”
‘What Kind of Scotland?’ (Children’s Parliament, Page 9)
“People who do not have heating means they will get cold and ill. They will not focus in school because they are cold and unwell when they are doing work.”
(Member of Children’s Parliament (MCP), age 10)
Children express disbelief and frustration that so many families are living in poverty and recognise that poverty can impact upon all areas of their lives. In 2017, Scottish Government commissioned Children’s Parliament to facilitate a consultation to hear children’s views and experiences of how poverty affects their lives. The children highlighted the impacts on nutrition, housing, success at school, the ability to take part in activities, mental and physical health, and the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships. As such, children living in poverty can face significant barriers to the enjoyment of their right to an adequate standard of living, to health and education.
Experiencing poverty can have a deep impact upon children’s relationships. To be healthy, happy and safe at home, children feel that it is important to have supportive and encouraging relationships with their parents or carers. They recognise that parents sometimes need support to care for their children properly. The hardship of poverty and the anxieties about money can have a significant impact upon children and parents’ mental health and relationships within the home. Poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health, and children and young people living in areas of deprivation have poorer mental health outcomes than those living in non-deprived areas.
“If your parents are stressed about money and argue a lot, it’ll impact on you and you feel like you can’t do anything about it.”
(MCP, age 10)
While the Scottish Government does not have control over UK policies around welfare reform, it does have powers in a number of policy areas that can help tackle poverty, such as housing, health and education. The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 has been welcomed, setting out ambitious poverty reduction targets and leading to the publication of the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-2022. This plan contains a range of actions to tackle poverty, including the introduction of a new income supplement for low income families
Despite these positive commitments, figures show that child poverty rates are rising across the UK. Policy changes to Universal Credit, benefit freezes and the rise in the cost of living have contributed to an increase in the number of children living in poverty, as noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights noted during his 2018 visit to the UK. While Professor Alston acknowledged Scottish Government policies to tackle child poverty through the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, he noted that accountability issues exist. The official report from his visit is due to be launched later today (22nd May 2019).
Children say that they want laws and systems to be put in place that will make a meaningful difference to people’s lives and reduce the number of children living in poverty. Incorporating the UNCRC in to Scots law would help ensure a child rights-based approach is taken to decision-making and procedures across a range of issues, such as housing, health, education, planning and family support. A rights-based approach in these areas will help alleviate the impact of poverty and ensure that the children’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Whilst incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law would not directly impact on welfare policies and legislation made at UK level, it would provide a strong signal to the UK Government that children’s human rights should be at the heart of the policy-making process. There are also hopes that incorporation in Scotland may encourage wider UNCRC incorporation at a UK level.