Government ignores social workers, campaigners, Lords and more than 100,000 petitioners and forces child protection opt-outs back into Children and Social Work Bill

05 December 2016

The Government has ignored social workers, children’s rights campaigners, more than 100,000 members of the public and the House of Lords and revived plans to let councils opt out of more than 80 years of child protection laws.

The Education Secretary Justine Greening will announce in the House of Commons this afternoon that she will plough on with proposals letting her exempt local authorities from almost any duty imposed on them by child protection legislation since 1933.

The plans were included in the Children and Social Work Bill with no consultation – but were removed by the House of Lords last month.

The Government’s decision to steamroller the proposals back into the Bill flies in the face of major concerns from experts in children’s care. Nearly 200 organisations and experts – including Liberty, Article 39, the British Association of Social Workers and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood – have come together to condemn the plans.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to axe the plans, while a report from Unison has shown 90 per cent of social workers oppose the proposals and 69 per cent believe they will place more children at risk.

Leading calls to remove the proposals in the Lords last month, Lord Ramsbotham told peers: “Such a wide spectrum of opposition inevitably raises the question of whether the Government actually consulted these practitioners before making their proposals. In conclusion, these clauses seem like a bad idea dreamed up in Whitehall that have not been properly evaluated or impact-assessed.”

Disregard for children’s wellbeing

If passed, the proposals would let individual councils apply to the Education Secretary for exemption from legal duties towards vulnerable children, young people and their families.

Every Act of Parliament since 1933 concerning child protection, family support, the care system and support to care leavers, children and young people in custody, and services for disabled children, alongside numerous regulations, will be affected, along with any Regulations made under those powers.

The move risks creating a postcode lottery of protection, while courts will be unable to safeguard the rights of children and families if a council has been exempted from following the law – showing complete disregard for children’s welfare and human rights, as well as for decades of parliamentary scrutiny, public consultation and thorough research.

Sara Ogilvie, Policy Officer for Liberty, said: “Before razing 80 years of child protection law to the ground the Government should have sought evidence and consulted the experts.

“Having failed to do either, they’re now ignoring significant concern from professionals, the public and peers and pushing on regardless – and taking advantage of the approaching Christmas break to push scrutiny through at top speed.

“The House of Lords has already rejected Government amendments. This is a fundamentally unsound and dangerous scheme – and tinkering around the edges won’t protect children whose rights are cast aside. It’s now up to principled MPs to stand up for vulnerable children and ditch it.”

Contact: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656 / 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

  • Read Liberty's briefing on the Children and Social Work Bill.
  • The Children and Social Work Bill entered the Lords in May 2016.
  • Clauses 29 to 33 of the Bill allowed statutory duties in primary and secondary legislation relating to children’s social care to be exempted or modified for a period of three years renewable for a further three years.
  • The clauses were removed from the Bill by the House of Lords on 8 November 2016. The Government has now announced they will reinsert the scheme.
  • Individual councils will be able to seek exemptions. The Bill also allows exemptions to be imposed on certain local authorities.
  • Regulations making exemptions to law in a particular area will be laid as secondary legislation prior to implementation. However, statutory instruments are very rarely voted down and Parliamentarians will be unable to amend orders.