When should an obligation not be obligatory? If the government has its way, it’ll be whenever it relates to 80 years of essential child protections enshrined in UK law.
The Children and Social Work Bill has been working its way through the House of Lords with little fanfare. But among its proposals is a deeply worrying measure that not only shows a breath-taking contempt for democracy and the rule of law, but which could put vulnerable children across the country at serious risk of neglect and abuse.
Under the proposals, councils will be able to opt out of vital duties under almost every single law covering children’s social care since 1933. This will affect more than eight decades of legislation, some of which was created in response to the most tragic cases of state failure like that of Victoria Climbié and Baby P.
Individual local authorities would be able to ask the education minister to exempt them from having to comply with any aspect of children social care law “to test different ways of working with a view to achieving better outcomes… or achieving the same outcomes more efficiently”. An exemption would be granted for up to three years – and could then be extended for another three.
This means protection could soon vary wildly across the country, creating a postcode lottery in which a child could find themselves with a very different entitlement to care and support to their friend in a neighbouring town.
The ramifications and moral dubiousness of leaving vulnerable young people, care leavers and disabled children without vital legal protections in the name of achieving “outcomes more efficiently” are obvious, in particular given the precarious financial situations of many local authorities.
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