PROFESSOR EILEEN MUNRO SAYS EXEMPTION CLAUSES ARE
“A SERIOUS DANGER”
The London School of Economics professor whose work has been consistently cited by Ministers as the inspiration for controversial clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill has deserted the policy.
The clauses allow individual councils to opt out of their legal duties to help and protect vulnerable children and young people, including those looked after by the state, disabled children and at risk children living with their families. They are fierecely opposed by social workers, academics, lawyers and children’s rights campaigners.
In an email yesterday (9 February) to Article 39’s Director, Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck and former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, Professor Eileen Munro said:
“I have been reading the debates in Hansard and the submissions … I’ve also been meeting with some of those who oppose the Bill and I have reached the conclusion that the power to have exemption from primary and secondary legislation creates more dangers than the benefits it might produce … While I understand and respect the motivation of the current Government, there is a serious danger in having such wide-reaching powers in statute. Some future Secretary of State might use them in ways that are completely contrary to the current intentions and consequently subvert the will of Parliament.”
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:
“The death knell has finally sounded for this appalling attack on children’s law and Parliamentary sovereignty. From the start, Ministers claimed their dangerous plan to test out the removal of legal protection from vulnerable children and young people had the backing of Professor Munro. Well now she has walked away.
"Peers rejected these clauses; more than 50 organisations oppose them; social workers and others with long careers helping children reject them; and more than 107,000 members of the public have signed a petition against them. Nobody wants our child protection and welfare system to lose its legal infrastructure. Ministers must do the decent thing for children and young people and withdraw these hated clauses.”
Professor Munro set out in her email an alternative approach for the Government, which would be to build a more rigorous system around exemptions from statutory guidance. She describes this as “a less ambitious but still useful reform”.
Yesterday, the Together for Children campaign - formed to fight the exemption clauses - released a report showing the Committee of MPs which reinstated the exemption clauses last month ignored grave warnings from experts.
Government’s reliance on Professor Munro during the passage of the Bill
- At Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, in June 2016, Lord Nash said: “There is a consensus stemming back to the landmark Munro Review of Child Protection that over-regulation gets in the way of good social work practice”.
- The Department for Education’s policy document, called Putting Children First and published in July, mentioned Professor Munro eight times and included a supportive quote: “I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my Independent Review of Child Protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children's needs. Trusting professionals to use their judgement rather than be forced to follow unnecessary legal rules will help ensure children get the help they need, when they need it. Testing innovation in a controlled way to establish the consequences of the change, before any national roll out, is a sensible and proportionate way forward”.
- In Grand Committee in the House of Lords, also in July, Lord Nash quoted Profesor Munro’s support: “I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my independent review of child protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs”.
- The DfE policy statement issued in October said: “There is a consensus stemming from the Munro Review that over-regulation gets in the way of good social work practice and prevents social workers and other staff from putting children’s needs and wishes first” and included a supportive quote from the professor.
- A letter from the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler, said in October: “When Eileen Munro said we need to do the right thing, rather than doing things right, everyone agreed. When she said that the system was overly-bureaucratic which lead to social workers not having enough time to do the direct work they are trained for and which has a real impact on children’s lives, everyone agreed. If we don’t support this power we can no longer complain that the system is too bureaucratic and that we are hamstrung by legislation”.
- On 8 November, before Peers voted out the exemption clauses, Lord Nash once again cited Professor Munro: "The Munro review in 2011 showed us that overregulation can get in the way of good social work practice and prevent social workers putting children’s needs and wishes first. Too often legislation not only sets out what local authorities need to do to protect children but gives a significant level of detail about how they should do it".
- The second paragraph of a fact sheet issued by the DfE in December stated: “The Munro Review showed us that over-regulation can take time and resources away from social workers, and can stop them from putting children’s needs and wishes first”. The accompanying letter from Children’s Minister Edward Timpson said: “Eileen Munro showed us in 2011 how over regulation can get in the way of social workers putting children first and the local authorities who support this power have frequently echoed this point to me”.
- On 10 January, in a heated exchange with the Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck over whether the professor really supported the clauses, Edward Timpson said: “I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view, because I was under the impression that the review into child protection carried out by Professor Eileen Munro in 2011 was widely welcomed and respected across the political spectrum. That is exactly what is reflected in the many Hansard reports I have read from across the House, in which hon. Members all lauded a report that finally got down to the nuts and bolts of why we need to have a system that, as the tri-borough rightly expressed in relation to this clause, gets social workers out working directly with families and away from being in front of a computer at their desks. The reason why I keep quoting Eileen Munro is that she was the person charged by Government to provide an independent review, which has been considered, scrutinised and generally approved by this House as the way to go. I am often held to account for how many of Eileen Munro’s recommendations we have implemented, so I place credence in what she has to say about what we are trying to do, because she has already considered it and come up with a solution for Government, in her independent capacity. She says: ‘I welcome the introduction of the power to innovate set out in the Children and Social Work Bill. This is a critical part of the journey set out in my Independent Review of Child Protection towards a child welfare system that reflects the complexity and diversity of children’s needs’”.
- In an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 30 January, Edward Timpson included Professor Eileen Munro on the list of 15 individuals and organisations who support the exemption clauses.