Together meets with UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights to highlight the importance of incorporating the UNCRC to tackle child poverty

Date: 21st November 2018
Category: Child poverty


“Great misery has been inflicted […] on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.”

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights


Together met with Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights during his visit to the UK in November to highlight the causes and extent of child poverty in Scotland and the importance of incorporating the UNCRC to ensure a child-rights based approach to tackling poverty. 

Juliet Harris, Together’s director, met with Alston on Thursday 8th November with the Scottish Human Rights Commission in Edinburgh and again on Friday 9th November at a meeting at Avenue End Primary school convened by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and including Together’s members Child Poverty Action Group, One Parent Families Scotland , Scottish Refugee Council, Parenting Across Scotland and Children in Scotland. This followed from a meeting between the Special Rapporteur and children and young people which allowed him to concentrate specifically on child poverty and its impact on rights under the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC).

The meetings with Alston allowed Together and other civil society organisation to highlight the prevalence and impact of child poverty across Scotland and to set out recommendations to be taken forward by the Scottish and UK government.

As outlined in Together’s written submission for the visit, children, young people and wider civil society have been pushing for incorporation of the UNCRC for nearly a decade. Incorporation would provide the overarching structural mechanism through which the economic, social and cultural rights of children and young people could be progressed.  Child poverty is fundamentally a violation of children’s human rights and, as it stands, child poverty is predicted to increase significantly over the coming five years.  Furthermore, there is a pressing need to mitigate against the negative impact of Brexit on children’s human rights. 

On Friday 16th November 2018, Alston published a statement giving an overview of his preliminary findings from his 12-day visit to the UK and both reiterated and expanded upon his findings during an hour-long press conference that afternoon.

Drawing upon first-hand evidence gathered during his visit, Alston’s statement gives a harrowing insight into the lives of those affected by poverty across the UK. He condemns the state of current social security policy and legislative frameworks in the UK – particularly austerity measures that he argues have directly resulted in the rise in poverty. He highlights the disproportionate impact poverty has upon women and children, calling the prevalence of child poverty “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

“Many of the recent changes to social support in the UK have a disparate impact on children, including the deeply problematic two child policy, the outrageous rape exception, and the benefits cap.” Alston calls for greater social and economic rights protections, particularly if the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is to become no longer applicable after Brexit.

Reflecting on the situation in Scotland, Alston recognises the efforts being made to establish a social security system “guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right”. However, he specifically highlights the need for greater accountability and explicit reference to be made to international social rights standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.  

Alston’s calls for legislative protections for social rights reflects the position held by Together and our members who support the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to incorporate the principles of the UNCRC into Scots Law. With Alston’s visit highlighting the reality that the “disgraceful” state of poverty across the UK is fundamentally a human rights issue, the Scottish Government’s commitment needs to be progressed as a matter of urgency. International experience shows us that such windows of opportunity are rare if progress is delayed, the opportunity to embed structural and long-term protections of children’s human rights into Scots law may be lost. 

In 2019, Alston will publish his final report to the UN and the UK government will be required to publicly respond to the findings and recommendations set out.

·         Read the extended version of Philip Alston’s UK visit statement here.

·         Watch the press conference here.

·         Read more about the Special Rapporteur’s visit on Together’s blog.

·         Read Together’s written submission to the Special Rapporteur.