Theresa May, the Home secretary, has announced that the Vetting and Barring scheme is to be scrapped before it has been set up:
Nine million people who wanted to work with children or vulnerable adults would have had to register on the database, or face a £5,000 fine…
The scheme would have been run by the Independent Safeguarding Authority. Checks were to be made with the Criminal Records Bureau before adults could take up their posts.
Volunteers could register free of charge, while others would have had to pay a one-off fee of £64.
Why was this an act of political bravery? Because of the media reaction if something goes wrong. A government that cuts a scheme like this is open to attack if something happens to a child (or a vulnerable adult), which could have been prevented by the proposed database. And governments know that in media terms, it is better to be accused of interfering too much then failing to prevent something. The Telegraph headline to the story provides a good example, calling it an anti-paedophile database whilst putting ‘commonsense’ in quotes. Even if something happened that the database couldn’t have prevented, there would be blame attached to the government, because of people’s perceptions.
The current round of protection policies, crowned by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), is a case in point. This apparatus was set up after the Soham murders in 2002, which saw two schoolgirls murdered by a local caretaker. His violent past was not known to the school, and had it been, he would never have been hired. Therefore the system of CRB checks was designed to stop this happening again. What most people seem to have missed though was that a CRB check would have made any difference: the caretaker worked at a different school, so his position did not give him privileged access to his two victims. Yet it was enough that something had to be done, so it was done.
Last year around 15,000 people were wrongly branded as criminals by CRB checks, whilst many more were unable to start work as they had to wait months to get their cheques back. Children and vulnerable adults will never be completely safe under any system. The government needs to ensure that those who can do the most for these groups aren’t put off or prevented from doing so by bureaucracy and the fear of being branded. Well done to the coalition for taking this step.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs