UK’s Children’s Commissioners say systemic disadvantages must be addressed as report shows nearly a quarter of Scotland’s children in poverty


A boy behind a cross on a blue background symbolising the Scottish flag, with the text "The Children's Commissioners' Report to the UN shows that nearly a quarter of children in Scotland are living in poverty."

The four UK Children’s Commissioners are calling on the UK Government and its devolved governments to address the systemic disadvantages facing children and young people in a joint report to the United Nations.  

Children’s Commissioners from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have raised 30 areas of concern to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in their “report card”. 

Among the issues highlighted is the fact that 240,000 children in Scotland – almost 1 in 4  – were in poverty between 2016-2019.

Following coronavirus, this figure will now be even higher.

UK Commissioners’ report to the UN

“These are basic human rights issues that we have reported on repeatedly”

Speaking on behalf of the four Commissioners, Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:

“Our assessment of where our Governments are in protecting children’s human rights unsurprising. The UK is a relatively rich country but yet the numbers of children living in poverty continues to rise and with the impact of Covid-19 making things increasingly more difficult for families. Mental health services are not adequately resourced and readily available to those children that need help. 

“These are basic human rights issues that we have reported on repeatedly over the last few years. Whilst there have been pockets of positive developments, ultimately, these are policy choices made by the four nations and this pandemic has highlighted the need for all policy makers to place the best interests of children and their human rights at the heart of decision-making. When done effectively, we’ve seen such positive outcomes for children, including the removal of the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ in Scotland and extending the vote to 16 year olds in Wales. However, this needs to become a systematic way of working across the UK to ensure an end to the persistent disadvantages faced by some of our more vulnerable children and young people.” 

Commissioner: Poverty, mental health and pandemic recovery all among most pressing issues

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, says the most pressing issues for the Scottish Government are tackling systemic poverty, recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, and vastly improving mental health services.  

He said:

“Every five years, the UN holds the UK – and therefore the Scottish Government – to account when it comes to children’s rights. The eyes of the world are once again upon us as we send this report card, and we are still failing on many issues. In Scotland, the outstanding issues range from failing to tackle poverty, to the use of restraint of children, to the age of criminal responsibility that does not meet international minimum standards.  

“We all know that 2020 has been a year like no other, and children have adapted to their world changing completely. Children and young people in Scotland have been incredible in the ways in which they have coped throughout this pandemic. But for children living in poverty, it has made hunger, mental health and digital exclusion even worse.”   

“Accepting child poverty in a country as rich as ours is a political choice”

The Children’s Commissioners’ report to the UN shows that 24 per cent of children in Scotland are living in poverty.  

Bruce Adamson said:  

“Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, including their rights to learn, to good mental and physical health, and their future and development. It’s the most significant issue affecting children in Scotland today and we need a sustained, human rights-based approach to tackling it.

“Accepting child poverty in a country as rich as ours is a political choice. The government has a duty to use its maximum resources to raise children out of poverty. Every hungry child in Scotland is a failure by those in power who could have done more.”   

Disabled children are among those most at risk

The report also found that disabled children have been disproportionately affected by austerity and the pandemic, and special educational needs and disability provision in mainstream schools is insufficient.   

Bruce Adamson said: “When it comes to tackling poverty, it’s vital to know who is most vulnerable to it. Families with a disabled child or disabled parent, black and minority ethnic children, young carers, children of prisoners or who are care-experienced, and children in single-parent families are most at risk. Special attention has to be paid to the rights of these groups.” 

“We are seriously failing children when it comes to their mental health”

The Commissioner warned that already stretched mental health services for children have been made even worse because of the pandemic.

According to the report, provision of mental health services at community level is inconsistent and the number of children waiting more than 18 weeks for an initial appointment with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) increased from 24.9% to 33.5% in 2019.

Waiting times are likely to have increased because of the pandemic. 

Bruce Adamson said:

“We are seriously failing children when it comes to their mental health. Before the pandemic, services were already stretched but it has become even harder for children and young people to access vital services. They have consistently been telling us that it’s impossible to be seen unless they are at crisis point. It’s unacceptable that children have to be in a mental health emergency before they receive treatment.”   

Children and young people’s voices must be heard by key decision-makers, and the Commissioners have also submitted a report of children’s experience to the UN.  

Jodi, 16, a young adviser to the Commissioner, said:

“Our rights shouldn’t be ignored when decisions affecting us are being made. Decision-makers should ask us what we think – and listen to our answers.”   


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