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Over one million children and young people annually are not getting the legal advice they need, warns a campaign launched by four leading advice charities.
As a result, children and young people are being denied their rights to liberty, security, shelter and education, warns the JustRights campaign, which brings together Children's Rights Alliance for England, Howard League for Penal Reform, Law Centres Federation and Youth Access.
The campaign estimates that the cost to the taxpayer of failing to get legal advice to children and young people is at least £1 billion annually, as under-25 year-olds end up homeless, destitute, wrongly imprisoned, or worse.
JustRights is campaigning for fair access to legal services for children and young people. It is calling on the government to develop a cross-departmental strategy to ensure ready access to high quality independent legal advice and representation for all children and young people whenever they need it.
To mark the launch of the campaign, Youth Access has published a report, Young People's Access to Advice - The Evidence. The report found that each year, at least one million young people with complex social welfare problems such as debt, homelessness, education and employment get no advice at all. Of those that do get advice, only one in seven manage to get advice from a recognised legal professional.
Barbara Rayment, Director of Youth Access, said: "Children and young people are in a uniquely dangerous situation - they are the least likely age group to get good legal advice, and yet they often need it the most. Today, children and young people in the UK are living on the streets and experiencing serious financial problems because there is no one to defend their rights."