As a relatively new mother, I'm struck by the relentless stream of everyday worries and mundane but important decisions that are part and parcel of parenthood. Back-to-back illnesses, childcare choices and the sleepless nights everyone warns you about - these things take their toll on everyone in a household. While parenting is, overall, an enormous joy, without a supportive family, a steady income and a proper home, I'm not sure how I'd meet the challenges it presents.
A stark new report by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) shines a light on how many families are missing vital parts of this infrastructure, and how this is impacting children.
- Around 130,000 children in the UK live in households where there is a high risk of domestic violence
- 330,000 children relied on a food bank during 2013/14
- There has been a 400 per cent increase in families with children living in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation between 2009 and 2014.
These are just some of the many terrifying figures presented in the report. Hundreds of thousands of children in England are growing up without adequate food, housing and protection. Without these basic necessities, how can families be expected to get by, let alone thrive? How can children develop and learn, let alone enjoy their childhood?
This is where human rights come in. Human rights are an agreed minimum standard. They're not a luxury or an add-on. They are the law. Children have their own human rights because they're different to adults. Their rights exist in part to make sure their lives aren't blighted because they happen to have been born into difficult circumstances. It's staggering that 25 years after the UK agreed to honour and promote the rights of children, the government is failing to make sure children's most basic needs are met.
It wasn't until I became a parent that I realised how important local children's centres are. They give children a chance to play and socialise - crucial for their development - parents the opportunity to support each other and access professional help and advice. They are a lifeline for parents and for kids who might otherwise be cooped up in small flats and are designed to stop families reaching breaking point. Given the situations so many families are facing, they are a vital safety net. Instead of being made available to everyone, they are being cut, year on year.
So children are going without the basics and the systems designed to support families before they hit rock bottom are disappearing. As a parent, I find this heart breaking. As a citizen, I find it unacceptable and unjust. We need to talk about human rights to show that this isn't about charity and it won't be solved by hand-outs and sympathy. It's about the systems that make up our society failing. It's about commitments being casually flouted. We need to show that we won't stand by and let it happen.