“The death of informality”. That was how Josie Appleton, convenor of the Manifesto Club, described the results of the second government consultation on the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).
The ISA is the child of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.
From next year, all those who wish to work, either paid or unpaid, with children or vulnerable adults will need to be vetted. Those who fail the vetting will be barred from obtaining such work. Individuals who seek to work in these areas, knowing that they have been barred, will be committing a criminal offence. Registration will cost £64 per person, although this will be waived for those only wishing to work in an unpaid voluntary capacity. This initiative will be supported by a central database, holding the details of 11.3 million people, or slightly more than a quarter of the adult population. This is an increase of nearly 3 million over initial Home Office estimates, making it the most extensive database of its kind in the world. The scheme launch has been put back to next year as a result of ‘concerns about data security’ and extra work needed to ensure its database was ‘robust’.
The ISA is due to take up its full responsibilities in October 2009. It recently announced its appointment of a board to supervise future work, under the chairmanship of Roger Singleton, former chief executive at Barnardo’s. Concern focuses on two areas.
According to Appleton, who is co-ordinating a national campaign against this new legislation, 'The vetting database is based on the misconception that it is possible for the state to regulate every interaction between adults and children. If only 'state-approved' adults can relate to children, we'll see the death of the many informal clubs, societies and nurseries that are so important for children's development.'
Who volunteers to be vetted?
The Manifesto Club documents an increasing number of areas – such as golf clubs and flying model aeroplanes – where increased vetting requirements look likely to result in volunteer organisations simply banning under-18s.
However, Kate Engles, policy & information officer for Volunteering England believes the scheme will be helpful: “At present, there is some degree of confusion as to what checks are needed for volunteers – so this will help create clarity. It will also bring a more consistent approach to determining who is suitable to work in specific areas. We are not aware of any research that suggests this scheme is likely to harm volunteering overall”.
Volunteering England is a government-supported charity, set up to promote volunteering in the UK.
A rather different issue is just who will be barred from employment. The database will monitor those who are “judged to be a risk”. However “expert” the basis for this judgment, there is the suspicion that this may introduce either a subjective element – or be based on a statistical technique not unlike credit scoring.
It goes well beyond targeting those guilty of child abuse. Minor incidents, such as forgetting to renew a fishing license can see an individual’s livelihood called into question when recorded by the Criminal Records Bureau.
More ominously, the new database is likely to include List 99 data, which takes the criteria for barring into the broader areas of misconduct. In time, there is a fear that the database could also carry “soft data”. This would include things such as dropped charges and allegations in respect of conduct, which some organisations argued should be more widely shared following the Soham murders. Critics warn that this could result in individuals being barred from jobs just for being slightly ‘weird’.
Mick Brooks, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers argued that the proposals were overbearing: “Children’s welfare is important. But we have serious concerns over the new system. It adds bureaucracy. It adds delay. And there is the serious issue that information is not always accurate, with the result that individuals can wrongly lose jobs or have their lives destroyed.”
The database will also hold details of current employment. In this, it goes beyond the existing CRB database – and will be a most useful addition to any future national ID base.
The most recent consultation does little to change any of the above. Its single most important conclusion is that we will not (yet) require individuals working with young people doing work experience to be registered. ®