The Children and Social Work Bill has moved from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, where it will have its second reading on Monday 5th December.

This summary looked at the growing public debate on the ‘exemption clauses’ during its passage through Lords, where the clauses were eventually defeated.

Key points:

  • There is still no evidence that exemptions from primary legislation are preventing innovation by local authorities
  • Clear opposition to the exemptions clauses has been communicated by the public and by social workers
  • There is strong opposition amongst Labour and Crossbench Peers, and signs of concern from MPs via an EDM
  • Qualified support for the exemptions clauses comes from from a small number of organisations and local authorities who have been involved in the Innovations Fund
  • Government data and analysis shows that spending on children’s social care is strained, inconsistent and not backed up by data and understanding at a local or central government level

Parliamentary activity

The government has proposed an amendment which would make concrete ministerial reassurances that the exemption clauses would not be used to enable outsourcing of children’s social care functions to profit-making companies.

Lord Nash’s amendment: “Regulations under this section may not be used so as to remove any prohibition on a local authority in England arranging for functions to be carried out by a body whose activities are carried on for profit.”

Lords Watson, Warner and Ramsbotham persist with their amendment to remove clauses 29 and 30 altogether.

These will be debated and voted on on Day 2 of Report Stage. The debate from Day 1 of Report Stage is here, and gives a preview of peers’ concerns.

MP David Lammy is leading an Early Day Motion against the exemption clauses, ahead of the Bill’s arrival in the House of Commons. It currently has 25 signatories.


Data and analysis

Several recent reports show the widespread and systematic strain children’s social care is under, and indicate that localised ‘innovation’, while it may offer good practice learning for potential replication elsewhere, is not what is needed to improve a structurally and financially unsound system.

DfE figures on child protection cases show an ongoing rise in numbers of children in need and children subject to initial child protection proceedings. The National Audit Office, reviewing the system since the coalition government began in 2010, identified so-far incomprehensible variations in spending between local authorities to achieve the same outcomes, and a general standard of outcomes that is far from uniformly good. It called for responsibility and leadership to be shown by the Department for Education.

Its comments included:

“Average reported spending on social work in 2014-15 ranged from an estimated spend of £340 per child in need in one authority to £4,970 per child in need in another. Neither the Department for Education (the Department) nor authorities understand why spending varies.”

“Nationally the quality of help and protection for children is unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than just local failure.” 

“The Department faces significant challenges in transforming children’s services, not least how to integrate this with a concurrent transformation of its wider operations by the end of 2017. It is critical that the Department learns from good practice and mistakes elsewhere in government.”


Support for Clauses 29 - 33

Minister for Children Edward Timpson and Education Secretary Justine Greening defended the clauses at the recent National Children and Adults’ Services Conference, reiterating the need for deregulation in order to foster innovation.

Chief Social Worker Isabelle Trowler continues to defend Clauses 29 – 33 as necessary to empower social workers to try new ways of working.  She describes Clause 29 as creating a ‘testing ground’. She and the DfE have convened meetings with most organisations vocal in challenging the exemption clauses, attempting to calm their concerns – however, very little information has been produced in these meetings that would justify the scope of the exemptions clauses.

A very small number of local authorities, which have Innovation Programme Funding and are the government’s Partners in Practice, are said to need Clause 29 in order to take forward ways of working not permitted under current legislation. While FOI requests to find out more about these are ongoing, the only examples of changes to children’s social care that would require exemption from primary legislation seem to be for reasons of efficiency, rather than creating better outcomes for children.

Andy Elvin, CEO of fostering and adoption agency TACT, has recently reiterated his support for the exemption clauses and faith in the government that they would not be used to allow profit-making in child protection services – instead he suggests that local authorities could use the exemption clauses to reject commercial fostering providers altogether.


Opposition to Clauses 29 – 33

One of the most recent articulations of arguments against the clauses, including that legislation permits innovation already, is from social worker and legal expert Norman Allen.

The main coalition to get the exemption clauses removed altogether, Together for Children, has 40 organisational signatories and many more individual professionals and parents signed up, with a wide range of concerns expressed. Carolyne Willow’s latest article outlines seven important problems with the exemptions clauses.

In a very short time, wider public concern has been clear in the petition for concerned individuals asking Justine Greening to “Protect the rights of vulnerable children and care leavers” which has passed 100,700 signatures.

The Local Government Association’s briefing expresses clear concerns with the prospect of local exemptions.

Most recently, the results of UNISON’s survey of social workers showed that more than two thirds believe exemptions from legislation would put children at risk and that what is needed more than other changes is better investment in social work.

Community Care has been charting the progress of the debate and brings together a useful range of comment for and against the clauses.

Read Children England's most recent briefing on the Bill.