Thursday, 10 November 2011

Innocent until proven guilty?

The Unversal Declaration of Human Rights article 11 says: 'Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.' This story is about a family with 6 children who are not able to claim any welfare benefits because they are being investigated for possible benefit fraud. Does it make it worse that they have not been charged with an offence; is that outside the provision of article 11?

The family were part of a whole community under investigation for benefit fraud in another UK city. This left the family without income so they moved to Newcastle where they had connections. They rented from a private landlord, the father got a job in a car wash, the mother a job cleaning hotel rooms. The 6 children started in local schools.

All seemed fine until the the landlord evicted them (illegally) and the father lost his job (his employer was friends with the landlord). At that point the council admitted them into temporary accommodation for homeless people which is where Children North East met them.

We run a creche for pre-school children and an out of school club for older children who are living in temporary accommodation. We also work with the parents to help them move on into new tenancies - temporary accommodation is not a great place for children.

Then the mother also lost her job after 3 months - one might guess so that the employer could avoid responsibility for the mother's statutory employment rights like entitlement to paid leave. Now the family have no income at all.

The younger children's school is 3 miles from the temporary accommodation. They walk to and from school, the youngest (who is just 5 and in reception year) is pushed in a buggy.

The eldest boy's school is also some distance. He has an under 16 bus pass which entitles him to reduced fares but still needs £1 a journey, so now he doesn't get there very often.

The family cannot pay rent for their temporary accommodation. They have no food unless our staff give them unused food from the creche.

Children North East does not judge, our view is no matter whatever is going on with the parents, it is never the children's fault. I think most people would agree the children do not deserve to suffer. But what are parents and we supposed to do in circumstances which are simply unjust?

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