Monday, 22 July 2013

The Underwear rule

The NSPCC has launched a campaign which aims to help parents and carers have simple conversations with their children to keep them safe from sexual abuse. They have produced resources based on the Underwear Rule which teaches children that their body belongs to them; they have a right to say no; and they should tell an adult if they feel worried or upset.
Source: NSPCC Website 08 July 2013
Further information:
The Underwear Rule resources

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Clergy Discipline

Most clergy and nearly all church goers can spend their entire lives without hearing about the Clergy Discipline Measure. I certainly hadn't before I started this job. But now I find myself responding to consultation about possible changes to it. What is it? Well, most clergy in parishes are not employees but office-holders. As they are not employees the Diocese cannot have the kind of disciplinary policy that other employers need, at least not for its parochial clergy. Instead we have this Measure, which is an Act of Parliament.

It is a cumbersome document, which comes along with a Code of Practice. A copy of this sits on my desk: it runs to 253 numbered paragraphs. And since it is not a policy, which could be changed relatively quickly, any changes have to go through the parliamentary process. That is the journey on which the national church has embarked. It is doing so to give effect to some of the proposals which arose out of the Chichester report, which pointed out gaps and anomalies in the Measure. Those of us involved in these things have known about them for some time - some of them were identified through the Past Cases Review of a few years ago - but Chichester has given the necessary push to move things along.

What are the gaps and anomalies? I shall raise three:

Removing the time limit for bringing allegations of sexual abuse

There is normally a time limit of one year to bring a complaint against a cleric. But survivors of sexual abuse are often not able to tell their story until a considerable time has passed - sometimes many years. So the one year limit is not appropriate for such cases. It can be dispensed with but this is currently another formal process which can take three months. So I welcome the proposed removal of the time limit.

Extending the bishop's power of suspension

If a serious allegation is made against an ordinary worker, the employer can suspend the worker, and will normally do so unless the allegation clearly has no substance. I put it like this as there can be malicious allegations or even - I have had such a case - one of mistaken identity. Clergy are not employees and so cannot be suspended unless they have been arrested. So they currently have to be asked to withdraw voluntarily while matters are investigated. This is an absurd position which needs rectifying.

Amending the law on risk assessments

There is a worrying area of concern where a cleric has been the subject of an allegation, or possible several different allegations, but for various reasons none of them have led to a conviction. We then are likely to seek a risk assessment from an individual or organization which specializes in this work. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is one such, and it is used not only by churches but also by government bodies. What if the cleric refuses to go for risk assessment? The proposal is that such a refusal should constitue a disciplinary offence and be dealt with under the Measure. This is quite a complicated issue, since it involves a judgement on someone who has not been convicted, but on balance I support it.

There are other proposals, and I shall also be pressing for a change which is not in the list of  proposals. Currently, it is a criminal offence for a person in a position of trust, such as a teacher or youth worker, to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old for whom they are responsible. But this only applies in the statutory sector. So it does not apply to teachers or youth workers in the voluntary sector - nor to clergy. I think we should be asking that it should.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Postcode lotteries

The NHS is intended, at least in theory, to provide a consistent level of service across the country. However, local authorities, again in theory, can set levels of service in accordance with local decisions: they can provide more services but will have to charge more council tax to fund it, or alternatively they can reduce council tax but will have to reduce services to match.

I have said 'in theory' both times because the practice is rather different. The NHS is less consistent than you might expect. Funding was controlled by Primary Care Teams until April this year when the bulk of it was handed over to new Clinical Commissioning groups. Their funding - and therefore priorities - will vary across the country.

Local authorities have, however, been moving in the opposite direction. The bulk of their funding comes not from council tax but from a central government grant. They are severely constrained by what they can raise through council tax because governments impose caps so as to control overall public spending.

The whole system is fiendishly complicated and very few people know or care about the detail. Many people do not appreciate that hospital and community health care comes from the NHS while social care such as care homes and domiciliary care from local authorities. NHS care is free at the point of delivery, apart from such things as prescription charges for those who are liable, whereas social care is chargeable and the charges can be high.

Both entitlement to social care and the charging arrangements vary across the country. This reflects the different histories and priorities of different local authorities - as well as such things as the demographic makeup, affluence or deprivation and politics. But many people feel - whether rightly or wrongly - that this is unfair, and that entitlement to services should be consistent across the country. When local authorities are hard pressed financially, they manage by reducing entitlement to services. There is a national classification for this: needs may be low, moderate, substantial or critical. Local authorities have been free to set their own eligibility thresholds for services within this scheme.

Now the government has decided there should be a national scheme, and it will be set at the level of substantial need. Most local authorities do this already but a few have set their threshold at the critical level. Will this be affordable? The government estimates it will cost £23 million a year to do this. On the other hand, it would cost £2 billion a year to lower thresholds to the moderate level.

The fact that the NHS is a separate organization - or rather a number of separate organizations - from local authorities, and their boundaries may well not coincide means that there all sorts of perverse incentives in the system. In one sentence: more social care would reduce the need for hospital care. The government has recognized this and is transferring £3.8 billion from the NHS to be jointly managed with local authorities to provide more social care. This is not new money, and local authorities have already had substanital reductions in their funding. But it will certainly help.

What I consider we really need is full integration of adult social care with the NHS, so that perverse incentives can be ironed out. I wish the big reorganization of the NHS had concentrated on this. But it is good that it is beginning to happen now.