While the world is focused on the US presidential elections, an attack is underway on children’s services in England.
A bonfire of services
The child and social work bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, could see child social care and protection services opened up for private companies to run. But it would also allow over 80 years of child protection law to be swept aside, in what critics are calling a “bonfire” of children’s rights. And on Tuesday 8 November, the Conservatives quietly tried to make amendments to the bill which would mean parliament has no control over any future changes to the law.
As it stands, laws apply to every child in England, via local authorities. But the government wants to change this, by allowing councils to opt out from national law for up to six years. This would mean social care laws would no longer apply to all children.
The bill would affect nearly all local-authority-run children’s social care services. These include child protection, fostering and adoption, family support, the care system and support for caregivers, and services for disabled children. Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said that local authorities opting out of national law would:
Allow great social workers to try out new approaches and be freed from limiting bureaucracy. All in the interests of achieving more for children.
Privatisation by stealth
But critics disagree, and have expressed far-reaching concerns, saying that it will mean a “postcode lottery” of children’s services. Carolyne Willow, a former child protection social worker, said it would lead to the “fragmentation of child welfare law for the first time” ever. Willow also said the bill would mean “children in neighbouring towns and cities will have different rights”, adding that “siblings placed apart could be subject to different legal protection”.
And crucially, local authorities would be able to give children’s services to private companies. This is because the bill would allow them to be exempt from national law. Ministers deny this is the case. But as The Canary previously reported, the same thing has happened with the education system in the UK over the past two decades. And the end result has been the start of the “academisation” process.
Lord Nash has brought the bill. He is a Conservative peer who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education. Nash has a track record of vested interests in the school academies sector. And he is involved in children’s services that get government funding. He is also a former chairman of private healthcare company Care UK.
Children’s futures at risk
And Nash’s amendments would stop parliament debating any changes to the law.
The peer is trying to change the proposed bill in two areas. Section 29, “the power to test different ways of working”, and Section 50, “Social Worker regulations”. Nash is proposing is that both these areas would be subject to “negative resolution procedures“. This means the government could make these changes to the law without a parliamentary vote. The only way to stop this is if there is an objection from either parliament or the House of Lords.
Section 29 covers the areas of the bill which allow local authorities to offer services to private providers, and Nash’s amendments make it clear that there would be no prohibition on profit-making companies providing services. Or on private companies already earmarked for potential contracts. G4S being one such company.
Section 50 refers to new Social Worker regulations as a whole. It covers changes to who regulates them and the involvement of the government in the industry. And, Nash’s amendments would let the government force through changes to social work regulations with little scrutiny. His amendments would also affect the proposed new regulator of the industry, Social Work England. The Tories are adding numerous amendments which would see the regulator effectively at the mercy of the government.
A systemic crisis
Child poverty is spiralling out of control and children’s mental health services are at breaking point. This is creating a crisis for young, vulnerable people in England. And this proposed bill would merely set deeper roots for what is a systemic problem. But without rigorous objections from politicians, campaigners and professionals themselves, the Conservatives may just make this proposed legislation law. And that should deeply concern us all.
– If you or someone you know need to talk, call Childline on 0800 1111.
– If it is a medical emergency or someone’s life is at risk, dial 999.
– Support YoungMinds, the voice for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
– Sign the petition, against the child and social work bill.
– Write to your MP, urging them to oppose the child and social work bill when it reaches parliament.
Featured image via Flickr
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