the first phase of the Laming inquiry said much about the immediate
circumstances surrounding the death of eight-year-old Victoria
Climbie, phase two promises to tell us a great deal about the wider
social and political attitudes that could have contributed to such
had recently arrived in this country from the Ivory Coast with her
great aunt. In this respect, her situation bears comparison with
that of hundreds of other children who have been here a short time
and who, because of their immigration status, are effectively shut
out from services.
heinous piece of legislation, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999,
largely places these children and their families outside the
welfare state. Welfare benefits, housing, and the safety net of the
National Assistance Act 1948, ordinarily afforded to people in the
greatest need, are denied to newly arrived immigrant families.
Worse still, as the Family Rights Group pointed out in its
submission to the inquiry last week, they are given only restricted
access to family support under section 17 of the Children Act
According to the FRG, however, some local authorities are failing
to exploit such powers as remains to them under the National
Assistance Act and the Children Act. It cites cases of mothers and
children who, because they are not receiving support from the
National Asylum Support Service, are entitled instead to some forms
of welfare provided by the social services department. Yet
departments turn them away on the false grounds that “they cannot
be assisted because of their immigration status”.
report from the Maternity Alliance similarly highlights the
insensitivity of support services for mothers and their children
seeking refuge here. Quite apart from the unfairness of the
dispersal system, the few legitimate expectations they can have of
local authorities, such as maternity grants, may be refused them.
This resistance, coupled with the cultural resistance families
themselves often have to accessing support from white-dominated
welfare agencies, may have disastrous consequences.
upshot is that a significant number of children from ethnic
minorities enjoy fewer protections than other children. It is
another example of the institutional racism that remains firmly
entrenched in our society, despite the professed determination of
central and local government to play their part in stamping it
A blow to human rights
Court of Appeal’s decision that residents from a Leonard Cheshire
home cannot take a judicial review to stop their eviction is a blow
to vulnerable people who rely on independent providers for their
three judges ruled that as the charity did not exercise public
functions, it was not subject to judicial review as statutory
bodies are. The residents used the Human Rights Act 1998 to try and
fight the “redevelopment” of their home, arguing that it infringes
their right to private and family life. But the court ruled that
the new legislation had not altered the status quo and the
disability charity could not be subjected to judicial review.
residents will now take their case to the House of Lords. The Law
Lords must ask parliament to amend the Human Rights Act to ensure
independent providers can be subject to judicial review. As more
social care services move into the independent sector, it is
essential that clients can challenge decisions made by charities
and companies. If not, many vulnerable people will be left without
the human rights protection they need.