Allowing councils to opt out of legal duties to ‘experiment’ with service delivery will place childr…

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In just a few months, the Family Court has seen its budget shrink from £2.4bn to £1.6bn. These cuts, as well as ongoing delays in improving the system, are wreaking havoc on society’s most vulnerable families.

The latest set of concerns stem from the drastic reduction in legal aid, which also saw the government implement a set of requirements that had to be met before victims of domestic violence could access legal support. Arguing that the need to show evidence of violence underlined the importance of fairness in legal proceedings, the government conveniently sidestepped difficulties surrounding pre-trial evidence gathering in such cases in order to save money. The measure left countless victims unable to bring their abusers to court, and to protect themselves from further harm. And not just out of court either.

Perpetrators and those accused of abuse are also increasingly unable to access legal representation for family court hearings, and are now cross examining their victims in person, adding to any trauma already present. Case studies are now emerging which show that this practice is leading to some victims finding themselves being interrogated by violent ex partners in court and needing substantial medication and counselling to cope with the aftermath of the hearing.

Clause 29 of the Children and Social Work Bill is the latest cull in a string of measures to unburden the Treasury. The clause allows local authorities to set aside children’s rights in order to experiment with service delivery, but it is just another cost cutting exercise, and one we must ferociously oppose. Like the cuts to legal aid, its working philosophy bares all the same hallmarks which will eventually lead to fundamental rights being eroded and more lives put at risk.

With the news this week that MPs voted 10-5 to reinstate Clause 29 after peers in the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly to remove it, now more than ever we must look at why opposing this section of the Bill is so important. Whilst the government has offered to amend the Clause so that councils can’t request exemptions from specific sections of the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004, including child protection and child in need duties, any kind of exemption or removal of basic child rights focused responsibilities, which is what the clause proposes, is both irresponsible and dangerous.

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