Austerity is being exploited to drive through budget cuts and reforms which are denying children their basic human rights, according to a major new report, backed by more than 60 organisations and experts, being released today.
The State of Children's Rights in England report accuses the government of using "economic pressures" to "justify not only a serious erosion of children's economic and social rights, such as health, food and the right to play, but also fundamental changes to our justice system."
Welfare reforms driven by austerity, combined with rising prices and low wages, have resulted in children suffering "severe deprivation."
Hundreds of thousands more children are living in poverty compared to a year ago - the total number is predicted to reach three million by 2015.
In terms of education, "staggering" inequalities remain. And when it comes to health, poor children are now four times more likely to be unhealthy than richer children, the report warns.
"Children are failing to receive essential state support because of cuts to services." And major reductions to legal aid and restrictions over judicial reviews "seriously undermine children's ability to challenge rights violations," it says.
Paola Uccellari, director of the Children's Rights Alliance for England, said: "We expect the state to protect children by ensuring their well-being and best interests are at the heart of public policy and services.
But when we look at all of the issues which have an impact on children in the UK today we can see that too many are still suffering from abuse, poverty and injustice."
Responding to the findings, Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: "It is a stark indictment of a nation that considers itself to be modern and progressive that we cannot assume that children will be safe and thrive in today's society."
And Lily Caprani, director of policy, The Children's Society, commented: "Children's rights must not be sacrificed in the name of government belt tightening." She added that cuts to legal aid "will deny children a legal voice and stop them from getting the legal support they are entitled to."
Britain is signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and was given a list of 118 areas which needed action after a visit by UN officials five years ago . Yet there has been no progress, or things have got worse, in most areas needing improvement [88 out of the 118], according to campaigners. This comes just weeks before the government is due to report to the UN [Jan 2014] on its progress in protecting children's human rights.
Last night a government spokesperson insisted: "The welfare of children is at the heart of this government's wide ranging reforms." They cited changes to serious case reviews to make agencies failing children "publicly held to account", social work reforms, fast-tracking adoptions, making childcare more affordable, and spending £2.5billion on helping "the most disadvantaged pupils achieve at school."