Today the Scottish Parliament’s hearing about the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty ’s findings around poverty and human rights in the UK, following his visit to the country earlier this month.
The Special Rapporteur – Professor Philip Alston – came to Scotland as part of his visit, and we worked with children and young people to help them share their experiences. Professor Alston’s report was released last week, and makes for harrowing reading:
“I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future.”
Professor Alston’s account brings home that poverty has life-changing consequences on real people’s lives, and that a lot of these people are children.
Growing up in poverty is the most serious human rights issue for children in Scotland.
And the situation is getting worse.
The Scottish Government found that over 1 in 4 children were in relative poverty in 2015/16 and predicts that number to rise to almost 4 in 10 by 2027/28.
Incorporation can tackle child poverty
In the Commissioner’s office one of our priorities is incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law, and sometimes that can sound distant to people’s lives.
But incorporation is one way we can put real legal powers in place here in Scotland to take action against what poverty does to our children, by giving the UNCRC direct force in Scots law.
Poverty and the UNCRC
The UNCRC enshrines the human rights of children and young people, and some are particularly relevant to child poverty.
It gives children and young people the right to have a standard of living which allows them to grow up physically and mentally well, and to have the food, clothes and housing they need to do so. And when their parents can’t provide enough to make that possible, it gives them the right to financial support from the State.
The UNCRC also says that a State has to do all it can to realise these rights— and after incorporation, it would be legally bound to do so.
So incorporation isn’t something that’s far away from the effects that poverty has on children.
Incorporation gives people the power to hold the Scottish Government to account on their human rights obligations.
They government has to demonstrate that there are upholding children’s human rights and if they don’t – children and their families can take legal action against them.
Where we are now
In its 2018 Programme for Government , the Scottish Government committed to incorporating the principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into law. But we still don’t know what this will look like, or if this will happen before the next elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2021.
We think that it has to go further.
So last week we presented the Scottish Government with a Draft Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill .
And we’ve helped put together an Advisory Group to look at what incorporation will look like in practice.
We share Scotland’s aspiration to be a progressive, bold and forward-looking nation. But for that to happen, we need it to be possible to hold it to account when it isn’t.
And for that to happen, we need to fully incorporate the UNCRC.