The UK Government’s austerity and social assistance cuts are likely to affect disadvantaged categories such as children and disabled persons.
With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 2,6 billion (2017), the United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy on the planet. Unfortunately, this does not mean poverty doesn’t affect it. On the contrary, the UK is in the spotlight for its unsettling level of indigence, especially among children. Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is investigating the UK for this blatant gap between enormous wealth and extreme poverty. This is the second time a Western European nation has been subjected to a UN investigation into poverty, after Ireland in 2011.
According to Social Metric Commission data, used by professor Alston, 14 million British citizens live in poverty out of those 4.5 million are children. These people are living with less than 55% of the median income, low enough to be considered poor.
This is particularly significant if we consider the relative indicators of poverty, which take into account costs such as rent, child care, and education. According to these metrics, even income which could be considered comfortable enough in absolute terms, may not guarantee meeting basic material needs. The poverty of children is indeed often the poverty of their parents who are not able to provide them with their basic needs.
3.1 million children out of the 4.5 million in indigence have working parents, that fall into the so-called “working poor” category, people that despite working have nothing left to pay for education, healthcare and other basic needs for their children.
As a consequence, the lack of access to good education and healthcare threatens the fundamental rights of children and entraps them in the vicious circle of indigence, especially for those with disabilities, a minority or migrant background, depriving them of a brighter future.
One of the main points of Alston’s investigation focused on the perverse effects of Universal Credit, the UK’s new benefits system. The ambitious and ambiguous program set up with the aim of simplifying the wealth distribution system ended up as a “Universal Discredit”, as Alston stresses. The reform, by combining several different benefit systems into one, planned deep cuts and reduced the workforce of its civil servant. The problem is that these cuts, rather than simplifying reduced by £3bn the credit provided to the beneficiaries of the previous system.Families with children are hit hardest by this “discredit”. According to independent analysts, the lowest-income fifth of families with children are having their credit reduced by 3000 £ a year by 2020.
Another burden has been the so-called “two-child policy”, that deprived around 70,000 families with more than two children of up to £2,780 a year. This risks to results in a punishing measure, as Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, quoted.
Unsurprisingly, the distribution of this unsettling phenomena is hitting harder poorest areas of the country. In 10 UK constituency, the level of child poverty has risen above 50%, with peaks of 70%. The lowest rates have been recorded in wealthier parts of Scotland and South England.
The UK ratified the UN Child Rights Convention and the European Social Charter in 1991. However, it can be argued that today there is no longer a guarantee for a bright future for children.
Child poverty is predicted to rise up to 7% in the period between 2015 and 2022. Something should be done, otherwise, this vicious cycle will create further poverty and malaise among new generations in the UK, compromising the future of the country. The government should start investing again on its children and future adults, increasing welfare for poorer families regardless of the number of children and paying more attention to particularly disadvantaged areas of the country.
As stated by the latest report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the EU and its member states should enforce existing policies. Every child in the UK has a right to basic goods and services essential for his or her well-being, such as a good diet, proper housing, healthcare, and education.
In this regard, the UK administration should work to empower and informed generations, as well as educate them, about their rights. Indeed, housing, education, and health are basic human rights, not just economic indicators. And what about Brexit? International organization, millennials and NGO’s, should be vigilant to ensure that children’s rights are not undermined as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. Children’s rights should be one of the primary main concerns amid all negotiations and subsequent law and policy. Child Rights Education is an important step in cementing the rights of children and enabling them to become active citizens in this changing world. A country with no – healthy and educated – children, is a country with no future.
Francesco is a contributor to TIB.