While the media harps on about Labour MPs calling for John McDonnell to stand down, the Tories have quietly dropped a privatisation bombshell. And this time, it’s on some of the most crucial services for vulnerable children in England.
A proposed law would see child social care and protection services opened up for private companies to run. 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 the bill could threaten to put already vulnerable and abused children at even greater risk.
“New approaches” or a “postcode lottery” for children?
The child and social work bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, intends to shake up the legal basis of child services. Currently, laws apply to every child in the country, via local authorities. But the Tories want to change this, by allowing councils to opt out from national law for up to six years. Ultimately, this means social care laws will no longer apply to all children.
The bill affects 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 care leavers, 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.
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. The bill would mean “children in neighbouring towns and cities will have different rights”, Willow said; adding that “siblings placed apart could be subject to different legal protection”.
But crucially, because local authorities would be excluded from national law, it would allow them to bring in private companies to run children’s services. While ministers deny this, the exact same thing is happening in the education system: ‘academisation’.