Safeguarding a sinking ship

Are there really 11.3 million adults in the UK who could pose a risk to children?

Yes, if you work for the Independent Safeguarding Authority and believe that every adult is a potential murderer or paedophile.

 At a very late stage – after the passage of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, after the consultation over details, after the setting up of the authority – people have finally woken up to the implications.
A powerful reason for that has been the astonishing figure of 11.3 million people who will have to be vetted and registered because they come into contact with children or vulnerable adults “frequently” or “intensively”. Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, has ordered a review of what these terms mean – as if civil servants have not already spent months writing a 149-page document, Guidance for the Vetting and Barring Scheme, that tries to explain them.
Curious about how the 11.3 million figure had been reached, I emailed the ISA, who replied saying that my request had been passed to experts who either knew the answer or could refer me to a document explaining it. They promised to reply within ten working days. But I’m not sure I can wait that long.
Others have been this way before - notably the Manifesto Club, which has campaigned against the scheme from the very beginning. The club has produced a series of briefings that explain how the huge total of suspect adults has been calculated.
The Act contains no definitions of some of its key terms, which was remiss of Parliament, but the guidance suggests that “frequently” means once a month or more on an ongoing basis, “intensively” means three days at a time, and “overnight” means betweeen the hours of 2 am and 6 am.
Anyone who has care, supervision, teaching, training or instruction to children under 18 (16 in employment settings) or vulnerable adults that meet these conditions has to be vetted, cleared, and on the ISA database.
Further, the 149-page document on further guidance, still unpublished but seen by the Manifesto Club, defines “an ongoing basis” to mean at least three months – so “frequently” means three times within three months. If you help at a Sunday school once a month, you need to be registered: if you help only once every six weeks, you don’t. It will be up to the individual to work this out for themselves, and notify the ISA when the threshold is crossed. Failure to do so risks sanctions which could amount to a £5,000 fine and a criminal record.
And what about a taxi driver who has to transport under-18s to catch an early flight? If the journey is before 6 am in the morning, he needs to be vetted and cleared. Just writing this down makes it clear how absurd it is.
Until these definitions were clarified, it was impossible to calculate how many adults the Act would cover. In January 2006 the Department for Education and Skills estimated 8.5 to 9.5 million people. But as the work progressed, the number increased to 11.3 million.
So did the cost. Estimated in June 2006 at £16 million for setting up and an annual running cost of £12-15 million, the current figure is £84 million to set up, and £49.2 million a year to run. So the cost over five years has increased from £91.6 million to £330 million. The scheme was originally intended to start last autumn, but after concerns about data security, the launch date was postponed to 12 October – assuming Mr Balls’ review doesn’t find further cause for delay.
There is already a vetting scheme in existence through the Criminal Records Bureau. In addition checks have been possible through List 99 ( which covers schools and lists sex offenders and those deemed unsuitable by the Department of Educatuion and Skills for other reasons, such as dishonesty) PoCA (a list of people sacked for misconduct towards children) and PoVa (roughly the same for vulnerable adults). List 99, PoCa sand PoVA checks have abeen subsumed into the ISA scheme already.
By definition, the scheme can only filter out those who have given grounds for suspicion, or have actually offended. Many others will be given clearance, only to become first-time offenders once they are on the list. Repeat offenders who have not been caught, and those who have offended abroad will also be listed as safe. No estimate has been made of the likely number of children saved from abuse or violence, nor is there any estimate of the number of adults discouraged from volunteering, or the cost to clubs and societies of implementing the system.
The whole act and its implementation has been carried out without any proper evidence to show that it is proportionate, or cost-effective, or has any statistical backing for the claims it makes.
Martin Nairy, chief executive of Barnardo’s, told The Guardian: “If the vetting and barring scheme saves just one child ending up the victim of a paedophile it will be worth it”.
That is nonsense. All social policy must be justified by its cost-effectiveness. Unpleasant as it is to put a cost on a life, it is done every day by the NHS, by NICE, by traffic engineers, by those who determine vaccine policy, and by many others. It is the only way of striking a balance, which this piece of legislation has conspicuously failed to do.
The irony is, as Josie Appleton points out on Spiked, many of those who supported the legislation through thick and thin have now changed their minds. "Not one politician or children's charity spoke out against it over the past three years" she says.