Friday, October 27, 2006

House Points: Safeguarding vulnerable groups?

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. It owes an indecent amount to the Manifesto Club report The Case Against Vetting: How the Child Protection Industry is Damaging Social Relations.

Checking out

On Monday MPs from all parties gave final approval to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill. Who could object to legislation designed to ensure people who work with children do not endanger them?

Well, let’s have a try.

First, look at the scale of the new law. A report from the libertarian Manifesto Club suggests that 9.5 million adults - a third of the working population - will be subject to regular criminal checks. Already a bewildering variety of groups have to undergo them: university lecturers who teach 17-year-olds, hospital secretaries, cricket umpires, teenagers whose parents mind a younger child.

On Monday, despite two years of consultation, the government still found more groups to include at the last minute.

Second, this explosion of vetting will discourage volunteering. To give a couple of hours helping at a school disco you will have to produce three forms of identification, pay £30 and wait for a month.

And it’s not just the expense and inconvenience: the involvement of the criminal records system reinforces the prejudice that there must be something odd about an adult who enjoys the company of children. Already the Scouting and Guiding Movement is struggling to find volunteers. To discourage them further at a time when everyone agrees youngsters need more exercise and more socialisation is crazy.

Third, it is not clear the new law will save children from abuse. It casts the net so widely that people will be too busy checking forms and covering their own backs to look at how a particular adult is behaving with children. And it is unlikely that notorious murderers like Ian Huntley or Thomas Hamilton would have been picked up.

Fourth, vetting will take a fortune out of the voluntary sector. Many volunteers have to pay to be checked themselves, which costs up to £30. Employers pay more than that. The Scout Association carries out 50,000 checks a year, at a total cost of £250,000. Still, it is all good news for Capita, whose deal with the Criminal Records Bureau will net it £400 million.

Fifth - and most important - there is Calder’s First Law of Politics: If men and women of good will from all parties unite to support a measure, it is bound to turn our disastrously.

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