Children’s rights and the Future Generations Bill

Llyr Huws Gruffydd says a commitment to children’s rights is lacking in current legislation.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd is Assembly Member for North Wales. He is Plaid Cymru's shadow Environment Minister.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child became enshrined in Welsh law under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 which came into force on 16 May 2011. Wales became the first UK nation with direct obligations to give “due regard” to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in developing legislation and policy.

This week on Click on Wales

This week on Click on Wales we’ll be looking at a new measure which means children’s rights must be considered in all decisions, by all Ministers in Wales.

Four Assembly Members will be discussing the impact that this duty has on their portfolio or shadow portfolio.

However, what does this mean in practice? In all 45 pages of the Well-being of Future Generations Bill there is no direct reference to children. The seven well-being goals set out on the face of the Bill are: a prosperous Wales; a resilient Wales; a healthier Wales; a more equal Wales; a Wales of cohesive communities; a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language. All seven goals affect children and their futures. But despite being about future generations no mention is made of children under the descriptions of any of these seven goals. There is no mention of children’s rights and no mention of the Welsh Government’s commitment to end child poverty. This brings to mind what the Children’s Commissioner for Wales said in his annual report:

“…there have been times in the last year where I have felt that we might have become too comfortable in our role as an international trailblazer, and almost forgotten our national vision for children and young people.”

If there is no reference to children in a Bill for Future Generations, what hope is there that children’s rights are embedded across Government portfolios and the wider public sector?

The Welsh Government has, along with the UK Government, committed to end child poverty by 2020. The Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2014 report reluctantly concludes that this target is highly unlikely to be met. Wales has a long way to go if we are to end child poverty. In the UK, only Yorkshire and the Humber have higher levels of child poverty. Half of three year olds in deprived areas of Wales are below the expected level of development. Only 26% of children eligible for Free School Meals achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths compared to 38% in England.

Legislation, will not in itself eradicate child poverty any more than it will ensure that Wales only uses its fair share of the earth’s resources. However, strong legislation could help drive the change needed to achieve this. References to child poverty could be included under the goals as could references to improving the attainment of disadvantaged children. Plaid Cymru believes that only through investing in an education system that works for everyone and breaking the poverty gap in educational attainment, will we improve social mobility and grow the Welsh economy.

A central criticism made of the Bill is that in trying to enact such broad catch-all legislation the Welsh Government risks trying to be everything to everyone and achieves no real change in the end. Whilst nobody would disagree with the principles set out on the face of the Bill, it is difficult to see how it will have a meaningful effect. Another concern is the risk that the Bill will simply add an extra layer of bureaucracy to how public bodies operate instead of mainstreaming sustainable development into existing structures. Plaid Cymru is calling for a clear and unambiguous Bill that will lead to real changes to how decisions are made on the ground. At the very least this should mean clear and measurable indicators relating to children and young people.

There is an additional concern from the children’s sector that the arrangements put in place for local planning processes could actually weaken children’s rights. It needs to be ensured that stakeholders in the children’s sector are fully represented on the proposed statutory Public Service Boards. The Bill also repeals section 26 of the Children’s Act 2004 which requires local authorities to prepare Children and Young People Plans. These are to be replaced by the broader Local Well-being Plans. If this is to be the case, there needs to be a robust process in place to ensure that planning relating to children and young people is taken seriously and isn’t lost amongst a long list of other issues.

The Future Generations Bill as drafted will not strengthen children’s rights. It may even dilute them. Plaid Cymru will seek to strengthen and improve the Bill. This includes ensuring that legislation on the needs of future generations has a greater focus on the children whose lives it will affect.

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