A government u-turn we should welcome

It was a mad idea to make businesses that employ under-16 paperboys or interns submit to vetting - thank God it’s been scrapped.

Josie Appleton

Topics Politics

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The UK government has done a u-turn on carrying out criminal records checks on businesses that employ or train under-16s – following the publication of the Manifesto Club’s latest briefing document on the culture of vetting.

In its original consultation on the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) of 14 November 2007, the government proposed that all those who directly supervised under-16s on work experience or Saturday jobs would have to be vetted – that is, have their criminal records checked for a potentially dodgy history (1). This was reported in the Manifesto Club’s Campaign Against Vetting briefing document, as well as in The Times (London) and other media. Many pointed out what a logistical nightmare these vetting procedures would be (2).

The government now says that it has ‘taken account of stakeholders’ views’ and has set out some new policies, including: ‘Where young people under 16 work, the adults who teach, train or instruct them in the workplace will not be required to register with the ISA scheme…. This means that managers of newsagents and other shops will not have to register before they can employ newspaper delivery boys and girls or under 16s in Saturday jobs.’ (3)

This u-turn is to be welcomed. Saturday jobs are important for young people; and Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) red tape makes it more difficult for businesses to take them on, instead creating a nasty suspicious atmosphere in the workplace. But the obvious problems with CRB checking businesses apply outside of the business world, too, in charities, schools, hospitals, and the many other institutions that deal with children and thus fall under the aegis of the new vetting laws.

It’s easy to see that time and resources are being wasted on CRB checks in the business community, because these organisations are run by the bottom line. But time and resources are being wasted in charitable and state organisations, too – money spent on checking the potentially criminal backgrounds of staff and volunteers could buy new books, employ more teachers or improve sports facilities.

Businesses may be put off from taking children on if there are compulsory CRB checks. But this is already the case in community organisations such as mixed-age hobby clubs, where children are being barred from clubs because CRBs and other measures make them ‘too much trouble’ (4).

So we need a u-turn on the UK government’s entire Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, not just the business bit. Businesses may be cleared, but as the government says, ‘some 11million workers and volunteers will need to register with the scheme in sectors such as education, health, childcare, social care, sport and leisure’.

The government’s response to the consultation also suggests that it still wants to enforce CRB checking in businesses by convention, if not by law. Although it is not compulsory for businesses to check their staff, the government suggests that it would be a good idea – and says that, given the risks of strange adults, businesses would be foolish not to! The government response says:

‘Those who train or supervise employees who are under 16 will be able to register with the ISA scheme and their employers will be able to check them if they wish. These decisions to register and to check should be taken in the light of the circumstances and a commonsense assessment of risk…. Work experience organisers will want – as they do now – to agree appropriate safeguarding measures with the employer which may include ISA checks. It is essential that young people in these placements are safe, including those who are working towards the new diplomas.’

We need to oppose, not only the vetting by law, but also the vetting by convention, a process fuelled by the risky view of people presented by the government. The government already portrays its vetting law as a kind of public service – you have the ‘option’ of being a ‘member of the scheme’, as if the compulsory database was some sort of local club. Here, by a strange inversion, it is the ‘scheme’ that becomes safe and friendly, and your local club becomes the place of tension and risk; the state is the knowable, your neighbours the unknown. Thus the state creates a new role, saving civil society from itself.

So one cheer for the u-turn – and now let’s call for a u-turn on the rest of this poisonous act, and the cultural assumptions that go with it.

Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club, a humanist campaigning network. She leads the club’s Campaign Against Vetting, which opposes over-cautious child protection regulations. Email her {encode=”” title=”here”}.

Previously on spiked

Josie Appleton put the case against vetting and explained, in a video comment, how it is destroying trust. In her review of Don’t Touch!, she pointed out that you can’t care for kids unless you touch them. Tennis coach Dan Travis warned that treating volunteers like criminals will kill community sport. David Clements agreed that Every Child Matters, but he thought privacy matters, too. Or read more at spiked issue Privacy.

(1) See the Consultation Document.

(2) See the Manifesto Club Briefing Document, and report in The Times (London).

(3) See the government’s response to the consultation.

(4) See the Hobby Clubs report

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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