20:06, March 23 275 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-23 20:06:03
UK has multiple social rights failings, finds Council of Europe

The UK’s low age of criminal responsibility, minimum pay rates for young teenagers and the failure to outlaw all forms of corporal punishment breach Council of Europe standards for social rights, according to its latest report.

The body’s annual review of each state’s adherence to its social charter found that the UK was out of step with rights in six areas.

Criticisms in the report – which mainly covers the years 2014-17 – include permitting pain-inducing restraint techniques to be used in young offender institutions, the “inadequate” level of statutory maternity pay after six weeks and that family members of migrant workers are not granted an independent right to remain after exercising their right to “family reunion”.

The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states and is separate from the European Union, said the conclusions of its annual review are legally binding in the same way that judgments relating to the European convention on human rights have to be applied by member states.

The UK government, however, has traditionally shrugged them off on the grounds that they merely have to be “taken into account”. Virtually every country is criticised by the committee for violating regulations in some manner. Only Iceland was deemed to be in a state of total conformity.

On the criminal age of responsibility, the report said that it should be no lower than 14 years. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old; in Scotland it is 12.

The study noted that the number of children aged between 10 and 17 remanded in custody in England and Wales has fallen by 66% in recent years. However, the report said: “Sentencing children to periods of detention must be a measure of last resort, for the shortest time possible and subject to regular review.”

In terms of corporal punishment, the Council of Europe is critical of England, Wales and Northern Ireland where smacking, defined as “reasonable chastisement” remains legal; it was recently banned in Scotland.

On apprenticeship pay for young teenagers aged 16 and 17, the report said the wage levels have not been fair.

The report also expressed concern that “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”.

On child benefit levels, it commented 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”.