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UK: on Human Rights Day, think of the children


Simon, 26, and 15-month-old Oliver-James, belong to a family on the cusp of poverty in West Yorkshire (Elizabeth Dalziel/Save the Children)

Human rights begin“in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends… Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

So said Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Today is Human Rights Day, as it is every year – but this year is also the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a document whose predecessor was drafted by Save the Children’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb.

In the next year, the UK government’s track record on children’s rights will also be scrutinised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.


Remember Article 27

Article 27 of the UNCRC entitles children to a standard of living that allows a fulfilling and happy childhood and a fair start in life, and that governments have a responsibility to assist parents in making sure this happens.

In addition, the Child Poverty Act 2010 requires the government to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

However, despite these obligations, 3.5 million children in the UK continue to live in poverty – and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) projects that this figure could rise by over one million children by 2020. (For our analysis of child poverty in the UK see A Fair Start for Every Child).


What poverty means in the UK

Poverty means parents or carers unable to afford to repair a broken refrigerator or washing machine, or to save even a small amount each month for emergencies or to celebrate their child’s birthday.

Children talk of the stigma of being poor and how it affects their confidence. We also know that children in poverty are far less likely to leave primary school reading well – condemning them to a life of unfulfilled potential.

Latest research shows that 40% of the poorest children are not confident readers by age 11.

Many families find it impossible to climb above the breadline no matter how hard they work: in-work poverty is rising, with three in five poor children living in a family where at least one parent works.


Making it less likely that work will pay

The Chancellor’s recent announcement of a further freeze to Universal Credit Work Allowances erodes the value of wage top-ups for low-earning parents, making it less likely that work will pay.

As the general election looms, Save the Children is urging all political parties to make work the best route out of poverty – without neglecting the importance of parents being able to spend quality time with their children.

By taking concrete steps to tackle child poverty – better quality childcare, more family-friendly jobs for parents – we can live up to the vision of Eglantyne Jebb and Eleanor Roosevelt and ensure that children’s human rights have meaning where they matter most: “in small places, close to home”.


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