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Children: Rights and Well-being

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following their ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, what plans they have to promote children’s rights and well-being across government departments in this Parliament.

My Lords, we remain strongly committed to delivering a framework of actions across government to promote children’s rights and well-being. We have successfully delivered a range of measures, including establishing a UNCRC action group and launching a children’s rights training package and an impact assessment template across the Civil Service. We will continue to promote these tools during 2020, including via the action group.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which I find worthy but somewhat incomplete. Is he aware that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK ratified in 1991, had its 30th anniversary last year? Is he also aware that in 2016 the Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed the UK’s record of achievement in relation to the convention as regards, for example, children in care, child mental health, youth justice and child poverty? We were criticised for having no overall strategy or action plan for children, as recommended in the convention. The next review of the UK’s achievement will be in 2021. Will the new Government take the opportunity to set up before 2021 a committee to form an action plan and strategy for children across government departments, with a lead Minister to oversee it, to assess and improve our performance in helping children thrive and achieve? There is much support and enthusiasm for such action across the children’s sector. How will the Government respond?

My Lords, there is a broad range of work across government that promotes children’s rights and well-being, which is set out in the report that we provided to the UN in November last year at the conference to mark the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC, as the noble Baroness mentioned. The report summarises the work of 14 government departments. My department has strong working relationships with other departments on children’s rights. I am confident that these will continue in the run-up to the next reporting cycle in 2021.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of Feeding Britain. We recently saw new and disturbing academic research. Children in Britain who are on free school meals are allocated £2.20 or £2.30, depending on where the school is. It has come to light that councils are now so broke because of the cuts that they are taking around 50p of that allocation for their needs. When the money then gets to the school, it is also so broke because of budget cuts that it nicks another 50p. This is not malice but just need. In too many instances now, the actual value of the food that we are serving to our hungry, needy kids—as is their right—is 82p. Can the Government assure us that they will look into these figures and ring-fence that amount? Food is always the bit that gets cut, either by a hungry mother or, in this case, a hungry council.

I am certainly happy to look into the figures that the noble Baroness refers to. If she has any example of a local authority where she feels that excessive amounts are being top-sliced away from food provision, I would be interested to hear of it. I have not seen examples of that myself.

My Lords, I have two particular groups of children in mind whose well-being is often compromised. The first are those who have a parent or other primary carer on the cusp of going into custody. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to ensure that sentencers, including magistrates, are aware of the new guidance from the Sentencing Council on this matter? On looked-after children, what intentions do Her Majesty’s Government have to further promote the vocation—it is a vocation—to become a foster carer or an adopter?

On the right reverend Prelate’s first question, I will certainly check with officials that the justice system is aware of the provisions that he refers to. Looked-after children is an issue of increasing priority for the Government, as was mentioned in our recent manifesto, and I completely agree that they are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. One of the initiatives that I have encouraged, for example, is the far greater use of local authorities teaming up with boarding schools which offer 40% bursaries to encourage some of these vulnerable children to join their institutions. We have seen evidence of a dramatic improvement in the life chances of those children.

My Lords, with a 28% increase in the number of children in care, a 53% increase in the number of children on child protection plans and, as we heard yesterday, a 70% increase in the number of children being excluded from school, are we taking our obligations seriously?

My Lords, we are committed to social care; it is one of our top priorities. In the settlement for 2020-21, we see the largest rise in core spending since 2015; a real-terms increase of 4.3%. On top of that, we are investing £84 million in targeted, evidence-based interventions to improve the support provided to vulnerable children and their families and to enable more children to stay at home, thriving with those families.

My Lords, in 1996, I had the privilege of representing this country at the congress that took place on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Stockholm. We in this country were proud of our presentation on that occasion, and we should continue to be proud of the efforts we have made in relation to the rights of the child, both domestically and elsewhere. Is it not a good idea that we should perhaps have a more comprehensive review, to make sure that we bring together in a more co-ordinated fashion all the elements throughout our departments which protect children?

I agree with my noble friend that this is a continuous effort that needs to go across government. We know that government can be weak across departmental initiatives, and I completely agree that we should do everything we can to strengthen that.

My Lords, in view of the recent High Court judgment that the exorbitant fees charged to children who register that they are entitled to citizenship are unlawful because due regard was not given to the best interests of the child, what steps are the Government now taking to ensure that all government policy-making gives primary consideration to the best interests of children, in line with the UN convention?

My Lords, we are confident that we comply with all the main conventions of the UNCRC. A recent CRAE report praised the work that we are doing in government. I quote from its summary report:

“More encouragingly, the Department for Education … has taken positive steps to raise awareness and understanding of children’s rights across Whitehall and to encourage policy makers to take children’s rights into account in decision-making.”