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Fri, 27 November 2020

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By Lord Garnier
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Government must do more to safeguard children’s rights and protect them from the impact of the pandemic

Equality and Human Rights Commission

4 min read Partner content

The UK Government must prioritise children’s rights and do more to protect them from the devastating impact of the pandemic, human rights body tells the UN.

In its latest report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), published on International Children’s Day 2020, 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.

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 has warned 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 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 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 has warned 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 EHRC’s submission 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.

The EHRC’s 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.

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