MPs have voted to reinstate the controversial ‘exemption clause’ in the Children and Social Work Bill despite opposition from social workers.
A survey by BASW found that over three quarters of social workers believe local authorities should not be permitted to opt out of some of their statutory duties to children and families to ‘innovate’.
“Just 16 per cent agreed with the Department for Education’s proposals for selective relief from meeting certain statutory provisions for children – which would be decided by the DfE, undermining the decades old cross-party parliamentary consensus on universal children’s rights legislation,” said the Association.
The clauses were removed from the Bill in November when the government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords. But this week MPs voted through an amended version of the proposals by 10 to 5.
The new clause would give the Secretary of State a power to enable local authorities in England to test different ways of working under children’s social care legislation for one of the following purposes:
- Promoting the mental health of children
- Including participation from young people
- Helping young people and families to access services
- Promoting high aspirations for young people
- Promoting stability for young people
- Preparing young people for independence
Shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck told the debate that more than 50 organisations who are experts in the field have raised concerns. “Why is the Minister not listening to them?” said Ms Lewell-Buck.
Edward Timpson, children’s minister, disagreed and said local authorities had expressed ‘excitement’ over the powers to innovate. “I am not prepared to ignore the views of those who I know are at the front of children’s social work, delivering excellent services, who are still looking to improve and can help others to do likewise,” said Timpson.
Timpson said in December that the amended version of the powers should allay concerns from the sector. If the bill passes successfully, councils will not be able to request exemptions from specific sections of the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004, including child protection and child in need duties. Local authorities will not be able to use exemptions to remove restrictions around contracting profit-making providers.