Dr Rhian Croke & Professor Simon Hoffman
Poverty: A violation of children’s rights
Amongst the many children’s rights issues, we focus on at the Children’s Legal Centre Wales and Observatory on Human Rights of Children, child poverty has been a key concern. As discussed in an earlier blog by Dr Croke, living in poverty undermines many children’s rights guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Ongoing failure to tackle persistent and corrosive child poverty in Wales is a breach of the UK government’s and Welsh Government’s duty to do all they can to ensure all children benefit from rights guaranteed by the UNCRC. Child poverty is a failure by government (UK and devolved) to meet the duty to ensure public policy promotes the best interests of the child (Article 3 UNCRC). And, although Welsh Ministers are committed to tackling child poverty in Wales, they are not doing enough to guarantee the rights of children living in poverty by translating appropriate policies into practice, in areas under their direct control e.g. housing (Article 27 UNCRC), health (Article 24 UNCRC), education (Articles 28 and 29 UNCRC). Welsh Ministers are also failing in their duty to demonstrate whether they are taking all steps to guarantee children’s rights by making maximum use of available resources (as required by Article 4 UNCRC).
The Welsh budget: Greater transparency required
Is the Welsh Government allocating the maximum available funding to tackle child poverty? And is this funding being effectively allocated? The answer is, we do not know. In order to answer these questions, we need more accessible information on how decisions are made about spending on children services, alongside priorities in other areas (e.g. adult services). We need to know what evidence informs Welsh Minister’s decision-making on how to allocate funding to meet its different priorities, and how decisions are taken about supporting children’s needs. One way to make these allocation processes more transparent would be for the Welsh Government to carry out and publicise a detailed Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) of its budget. We have submitted evidence to this effect to the Senedd Finance Committee and Senedd Children and Young People and Education Committee. We also emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability on the budget in oral evidence to the Senedd Equality and Social Justice Committee. Senedd Children, Young People and Education Committee has consistently recommended CRIA of the Welsh Government’s budget, but unfortunately Welsh Ministers have been equally consistent in rejecting the recommendation.
The Welsh Government draft Child Poverty Strategy
There is an unacceptably high number of children living in poverty in Wales. 28% of children in Wales are living in relative poverty (household income less than 60% of the UK median income). Child poverty has been exacerbated by the global pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. In the light of these sad facts, and conscious of a lack of clear targets to end child poverty, the children’s sector in Wales called on the Welsh Government to refresh its Child Poverty Strategy. The Welsh Government responded to this call early last year by consulting on a draft strategy in June 2023.
In July 2023, the Children’s Legal Centre Wales and Observatory on Human Rights of Children brought together interested stakeholders to discuss the draft strategy during a webinar jointly hosted with Children in Wales and the Children’s Commissioner. During the webinar participants shared concerns about gaps in the draft strategy.
Reflecting some of the concerns raised during the webinar, and adopting a clear focus on children’s rights, the Children’s Legal Centre Wales and Observatory on Human Rights of Children responded to the Welsh Government’s consultation. We were very clear in expressing our view that the draft child strategy was not build around children’s rights as set out in the UNCRC, and fell short of the duty imposed on Welsh Ministers to have due regard to children’s rights when exercising their functions (under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011.)
Our response also clearly set out why the draft strategy failed to protect or promote the rights of children living in poverty, as guaranteed by the UNCRC, and how a focus in the draft strategy on well-being objectives and goals under the Well-Being of Future Generations Act 2015 diverts attention from children’s rights. We also explained how the draft strategy makes a commitment to adopt a Children’s Rights Approach, but it is not apparent how this approach has been applied, not least because the draft strategy failed to identify concrete rights-based actions, or outcome targets to lift children out of poverty.
You can access the submission we made to both the Welsh Government and the Senedd Equality and Social Justice Committee here.
Dr Croke was also invited to give oral evidence to the Equality and Social Justice Committee in October, alongside the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and spoke strongly about our concerns. You can watch the evidence here and read a transcript here
We were very pleased the Equality and Social Justice Committee incorporated the majority of recommendations we made about improving the draft strategy in the report they submitted to the Welsh Government in October 2023.
Child Poverty Summit
With funding from the Esmee Fairbairn foundation, we co-hosted a Child Poverty Summit in Swansea with our partners at the Children’s Commissioner Office and Children in Wales.
The Summit was attended by representatives from non-governmental organisations and public bodies across Wales. Through plenary sessions and workshops on various topics covering the legal and policy framework on child poverty, and the different experiences of child poverty, we gained numerous insights into options to tackle this issue in Wales.
You can learn about the key findings and recommendations coming from the Child Poverty Summit report here (this will be available when published).
A new Welsh Government Child Poverty Strategy
Whilst we are pleased that our calls for a more explicit reference to children’s rights and a Children’s Rights Approach have been listened to, it is apparent from the Strategy that there remain challenges to explaining what this means in practice.
The Welsh Government, in its Child Poverty Strategy, has not done enough to demonstrate clear targets and deliverables for addressing and reducing child poverty and its impact on children and their families. The Child Poverty Strategy does not explain how decisions or actions taken by Welsh Ministers will protect and fulfil the rights of children living in poverty, or how this will be monitored, or how Welsh Ministers will be held to account for ensuring that children living in poverty will receive the rights they are entitled to under the UNCRC.
Nothing in the Child Poverty Strategy has reduced our concern that children’s rights guarantees are being watered down by a focus on well-being objectives and goals as outlined in the Well-Being of Future Generations Act 2015.
We are also dismayed that the Child Poverty Strategy does not address recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in 2023 which concern child poverty or the impact of child poverty.
We will keep pushing for a delivery and monitoring framework that meets the Welsh Government’s obligation to protect and fulfil the rights of children living in poverty in Wales. Together with the Children’s Commissioner for Wales we are hoping we can produce a Child Rights Approach to Child Poverty Guide. We believe that this will be helpful to statutory agencies across Wales in their efforts to mitigate or remove the impacts of child poverty.