Government scraps controversial social care exemptions plan

Department for Education confirms exemption clauses will be removed from Children and Social Work Bill

Department for Education
Department for Education

The government has scrapped controversial plans to allow councils to apply for exemptions from children’s social care law, the Department for Education has confirmed.

Ministers have agreed to remove ‘exemption’ clauses from the Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently going through parliament.

The measures, which the government styled as ‘academy style freedoms’ for social care, would have allowed councils to seek exemptions from statutory duties for up to six years.

The aim, the government said, was to allow local authorities to test new ways of working in children’s services. But more than 50 organisations opposed the plans, including the British Association of Social Workers, Unison, the Care Leavers’ Association, and children’s rights charity Article 39. The groups argued exemptions would erode vital legal protections for children.

According to reports, education secretary Justine Greening agreed to back down on the proposals after an intervention by Lord Laming – the chair of the Victoria Climbie inquiry.

Greening is understood to have agreed to support an amendment tabled by Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck that will see the exemption clause deleted from the bill when it returns to parliament next week.

The climb-down comes weeks after Professor Eileen Munro, who was regularly cited by ministers as a supporter of the proposals, withdrew her support. Munro said she had concluded the exemption plans presented a “serious danger”.

Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, said: “It is an enormous relief that legal protection for vulnerable children and young people will stay intact across the country.

“I hope children and young people get to hear that so many care leavers, parents, carers, social workers, academics, children’s homes, parliamentarians, lawyers, paediatricians, charities, trade unions and campaigners fought for their rights for months. And that ministers admitted a mistake and did right by them.”

Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “BASW strongly opposed the exemption clauses from day one. Our policy analysis from the outset was that these were risky for children and families, and would undermine the hard-fought for children’s rights framework of practice in England.

“It was clear from the start that these divisive and potentially dangerous proposals were not needed for innovation in children’s services. The next step for this government must be about engaging more with the profession to secure improvements to enhance rather than dilute children’s rights promote good social work practice in all services.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “These dangerous proposals should never have been made in the first place, so it is good news for vulnerable children across the country that the government has now agreed to our demand that they be abandoned.

“We must learn the lessons from the terrible tragedies of the past. The protections recommended after the appalling cases of Victoria Climbie and Baby P should be enforced, not weakened. There is nothing ‘innovative’ about allowing councils to ‘opt out’ of their duties to children who need protection in law.

“It is an unprecedented climb-down for the Secretary of State to sign Labour amendments removing the flagship policy from her own bill just days before the Commons could debate it. With her Department in disarray and her legislation in tatters, she has been reduced to sneaking out this humiliating announcement in the middle of the night in the hope that no one will notice.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The children and social work bill makes huge steps forward in providing vulnerable children with protection to keep them safe, as well as the support they need as they prepare for adulthood. It will support and strengthen the social work profession, giving it a dedicated regulator, committed to raising professional standards.

“We have listened to concerns raised about introducing the power to innovate, which would have meant councils could test new approaches in order to support the country’s most vulnerable children. In recognition of this we are not taking forward that particular aspect of the bill.‎”

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8 Responses to Government scraps controversial social care exemptions plan

  1. BillyThe Kid March 2, 2017 at 9:52 pm #


    • Stuart March 3, 2017 at 9:26 am #

      “Sensible” would have been to take it out at any point before now.

      Also it would be sensible to admit that they have pressurised the Trowler to support this stupid idea which like a little lap dog she did and that by now going against her previous promotion of it they have totally discredited everything else she says.

      It’s kind of ‘ok’ for politicians to make mistakes but to appoint a ‘Chief Social Worker” and then not follow her advice (however much we agree with them not following it) surely makes her position totally untenable and she must go.

      • Jo March 4, 2017 at 10:22 am #

        Couldn’t agree more that Trowler’s position is untenable. She chose to support the clauses despite huge opposition from the profession she claims to represent and should go now.

      • Lo March 4, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

        I totally agree with you Stuart and Isobelle Trowlers silence is deafening !

  2. Londonboy March 3, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Thank you to those who fought so hard with cogent and well reasoned arguments against these proposals. The claims in support of the proposals just could not stand up to any kind of sustained scrutiny.

    Who proposed them in the first instance and what did they know about children’s services? How did these proposals gain such traction without any evidence base and has the DfE learned anything from this?

    Lets hope so.

  3. Mark Kerr March 3, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    The news that thousands of children will needlessly not be put at risk comes as a huge relief. I am proud to have been part of a very small group fighting this clause. Whilst the news is welcome, we must now have a conversation about why a number of the large charities did not support us in fighting the clause.

    I would also like to publicly thank Carolyne Willow for her valiant efforts in leading us in this challenge. Had it not been for Carolyne, the clause would likely have been passed to the detriment of some of our must vulnerable children.

    • Londonboy March 3, 2017 at 11:43 am #

      ..If the question is what is happening to a very large number of the big mainstream charities, my experience is that they have lost a lot of their ‘policy’ staff looking at legislation or whatever, also they often have large ‘commercial’ interests – selling services of one kind or another. Many charities are very careful where they campaign and how they control their ‘brand’ – would a charity like to be seen as promoting the interests of ‘child abusers’ in The Daily Mail for example by supporting parents around ‘unexplained soft tissue injuries’?

      It dos’ent mean that good people don’t work there just that they are not the force they were and often have conflicted interests.

      What I find particularly chilling is looking at who is filling the void left by the charities, and trying to influence policy. For these groups, the vulnerable are an opportunity to make money – sheep to be shorn.

  4. Longtime SW March 3, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    Brilliant news – though the battle over other nonsensical proposals is not yet over I fear.