The UK has been found in breach of at least six areas of the Council of Europe standards for social rights, according to its latest report, which covers the years 2014-17.
The annual conclusions from the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) - a body overseeing protection of certain economic and social rights in most of Europe - were published on 24 March and presented a review of each of its 47 member states’ adherence to its social rights charter.
Thus, on article “Right of mothers and children to social and economic protection” and the clause “Children in conflict with the law” the report highlighted the issue of the UK’s low criminal age of responsibility.
The conclusions of the ECSR deplored the fact that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland children as young as 10 can be convicted of a crime – the lowest minimum age of any EU state. In Scotland the criminal age of responsibility is 12.
According to the European Committee of Social Rights, the age deemed admissible is no lower than 14 years.
Other criticism in the report targeted the country’s young offender institutions, which still permitted “pain-inducing restraint techniques” to be used.
As for sentencing of children, the findings applauded the fact that in England and Wales the number of children aged between 10 and 17 remanded in custody had seen a drop of 66 per cent recently, but nonetheless emphasised:
“Sentencing children to periods of detention must be a measure of last resort, for the shortest time possible and subject to regular review.”
On the fact that not all forms of corporal punishment are prohibited, report was highly critical of England, Wales and Northern Ireland where “smacking” is still legal as a “reasonable chastisement”.
Under the Article “Right of children and young persons to protection”, the UK was found wanting regarding unfair wage levels manifested in apprenticeship pay for teens between the ages of 16 and 17.
Under the same article, in the paragraph on special protection against physical and moral dangers, the report concluded that the situation in the United Kingdom was not in conformity on the grounds that child victims of prostitution could be criminalized.
On the right of employed women to protection, the findings blasted the “inadequate” level of statutory maternity pay after six weeks and the maximum weekly rate of the Maternity Allowance.
Child benefit levels were also perceived as falling short, with the report noting that “the amount of the child benefit has remained the same since the year 2009 and has therefore declined in proportion to the median income, in particular in relation to the second and subsequent children”.
On the article “Right of migrant workers and their families to protection and assistance”, the UK was found to be non-conforming on the grounds that family members of a migrant worker are not granted an independent right to remain after exercising their right to family reunion.
Also, “migrants and women with insecure immigration status” who experience domestic violence and rape “refrain from seeking protection and support services for fear of having their immigration status reported to authorities”.
Virtually every country with the exception of Iceland was found by the report to be in violation of certain regulations, as the Council of Europe emphasised that conclusions of its annual review were legally binding, just as rulings pertaining to the European convention on human rights are requisite to member states.