‘Children are not the face of this pandemic,’ the UN said on 15 April, but ‘they risk being among its biggest victims.’ The policy brief predicted a sharp increase in child poverty globally; huge losses in child learning worldwide because of school closures and digital exclusion; risks to child safety from lockdown and ‘shelter in place’ measures; and threats to child health and survival from reduced household income, disrupted health services and the mental health toll of the pandemic. ‘Without urgent action,’ Unicef had warned earlier in April, ‘this health crisis risks becoming a child rights crisis.’
On the facts established in the report, there is prima facie evidence that the human rights of those who died in and were affected by the fire were violated. The rights to life, to family life and to property are all protected under domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998. The UK is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognises the rights to adequate housing and to the highest attainable standard of health. If there is a foreseeable risk to human rights of which the government (local or national) is or should be aware, and the government is in a position to ameliorate that risk, then a failure to do so amounts to a failure to secure the right in question. Human rights, however, are effectively ignored in Moore-Bick’s report.
Last Friday, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, finished his visit to the UK. In his end-of-mission statement, he savaged the government’s performance on poverty. Key concerns included shortcomings in the functioning of universal credit, the dismantling of the broader social security net through wide-ranging cuts to services, and the disproportionate impact of fiscal austerity on socially vulnerable groups.