Why our Human Rights Act Matters...to children and families
Please note, this is a guest blog and views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of BIHR.
Bea Pitel is the Campaigns Officer at Child Poverty Action Group.
The Human Rights Act protects children and families. The government’s new Bill of Rights, or the Rights Removal Bill as some are calling it, will weaken the ability of us all to stand up for the rights of children and their families.
Steve* had been living with his partner for ten years and they had two young daughters together. Devastatingly his partner, and the girls’ mum, died of breast cancer in 2018. But when Steve applied for bereavement support payment, it was refused because Steve and his partner were not married or in a civil partnership. This support is worth almost £10,000 and provides vital income and security to families during an immensely difficult period.
In 2020, Child Poverty Action Group’s legal team supported Steve and another bereaved family to challenge this. In court, we argued that grieving children’s needs were the same whether or not their parents were married. Co-habiting is very common in our society - the majority of babies born in England and Wales in 2021 had unmarried parents. We used the Human Rights Act, and drew on earlier legal cases, to make our argument. The judge agreed with us. He ruled that grieving children who have lost their mum or dad and their remaining parent deserve to be treated no differently because of marital status.
Had the Rights Removal Bill been in place, it’s likely we wouldn’t have won this case. This is because the new bill requires the court to treat Parliament, when it passes laws, as always striking the correct balance between any competing interests, even where it’s clear an outcome is unfair The competing interests in Steve’s case are, on the one hand, the promotion of marriage in society by giving married couples more financial security; and on the other, ensuring bereaved children, who have just lost a parent, receive some protection from financial hardship regardless of their parents’ marital status. Under the new bill, we would also have to jump through an additional legal hoop and prove that Steve and his daughters were at a ‘significant disadvantage’ because of the existing rules. This would require producing even more detailed evidence about the family’s financial and personal circumstances during an incredibly difficult time in their lives. This might well have put Steve off pursuing the case, which he did not just to help his family but others in their position too.
The Rights Removal Bill will make it much harder for all of us to stand up for the rights of children and families like Steve’s. This is just one example of how the Human Rights Act has been used to protect families from financial hardship and poverty, but there are many more. The Human Rights Act protects all of us. We know that children’s rights and needs are so often overlooked or forgotten about – that’s why there are almost 4 million children living in poverty – so it is especially crucial that we defend what we have rather than seeing existing protections eroded. For the last twenty years, the Human Rights Act has been standing up for the UK’s children. If you were a child, or have had children or grandchildren during this period, then it has been there for you too.
You can help:
- Add your name now to Liberty’s petition calling on the government to defend The Human Rights Act.
- Complete this short survey by parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. They want to hear your views.
*The names in this blog have been changed. We are still waiting for a remedial order from the government, which will set out how this change in law will be implemented in practice.
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