Plans to let councils opt out of legal duties to children dropped

UNISON welcomes government move after months of campaigning on Children and Social Work Bill (England)

The government’s decision to drop plans that would allow English councils to opt-out of some statutory duties designed to protect children is “really welcome news”, says UNISON.

The confirmation that the plans had been dropped came when the so-called “exemption clauses” were removed from the Children and Social Work Bill.

“This is really welcome news,” commented UNISON national officer Matt Egan. “Social workers have overwhelmingly opposed these reckless proposals from the outset.”

As originally drafted, the bill would have allowed the education secretary in Whitehall to exempt councils in England from a range of legal duties in relation to children’s social care, or to modify that duty, for up to six years.

The government argued that the move would have allowed “a local authority in England to test different ways of working, with a view to achieving better outcomes”.

But UNISON described the plans as “extremely dangerous”.

And a survey organised by the union last November found that just 1% of social workers believed the reforms would address the main concerns they face.

The legal duties in question covered protections for children built up over 80 years, including many key laws passed by Parliament.

UNISON members lobbied their MPs directly about the damage the proposals would have caused, arguing that they would have lead to more children being put at risk.

At the same time, says Mr Egan, the union submitted evidence to the government and raised concerns directly with civil servants and politicians.

Social work reform survey report

“UNISON social work members have shown the importance of speaking out against damaging proposals to public services and the difference it can make,” he added.

“The wholesale rejection of this approach by the social work workforce was undoubtedly a key factor in forcing the government to back down.”

The successful campaign also illustrated the value of working with other organisations, said Mr Egan.

“UNISON was a member of the Together for Children coalition, which pulled together social work organisations, children’s charities and human rights groups to demonstrate the depth and breadth of opposition to the government’s plans.”