THE Government’s formal response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been criticised as “deeply disappointing”, “weak”, and “vague” by charities, survivors, survivor advocates — and the Inquiry’s chair.
The IICSA chair, Professor Alexis Jay, said this week that the response “will not provide the protection from sexual abuse that our children deserve”.
On Monday, a month later than promised, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, responded to each of the 20 recommendations made by IICSA in its final report, published in October at the conclusion of seven years of investigations of institutional child abuse across the country (News, 21 October 2022). The Inquiry looked at the extent to which government, church, charitable, and other organisations had failed to protect children from harm over several decades.
The three key recommendations were: mandatory reporting of known or suspected child sexual abuse — making this a legal requirement of personnel who work in regulated activities (for example, churches, hospitals, schools, colleges, and nurseries); a national scheme in England and Wales of financial redress for victims and survivors; and the establishment of a Child Protection Authority.
Although Ms Braverman says that the Government accepts 19 out of the 20 recommendations, the response refers largely to existing channels of work or policy into which the recommendations are to be incorporated.
Ms Braverman does not specify which recommendation has been rejected. Her report none the less says of the recommendation to create a cabinet-level Minister for Children: “This role is already fulfilled through the work of the Secretary of State for Education.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said on Monday that this response “did not commit to vital recommendations that would have made a real difference. For example, the creation of a Minister for Children, who could act as a champion for children, and the crucial child-protection authority that would work with the minister, would ensure that young people’s voices are heard at the most senior level.”
On the creation of a Child Protection Authority, the Government responds: “We accept the need for a stronger safeguarding system. We will ensure the relevant actions included within our reform programme, Stable Homes, Built on Love, fulfil this recommendation.”
While the Government accepts the need for mandatory reporting and agrees to a “regime” to enact this, it says that this is to be informed by “a full public consultation, beginning with the publication of a Call for Evidence”.
The campaign group Mandate Now said of this: “The Inquiry report referred to ample evidence on the need for and structure of mandatory reporting. It might be an innovation in Britain, but plenty of other countries have it.”
The group referred to an existing Bill, introduced by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson last July, which is seeking to introduce mandatory reporting. “If the Government was serious about getting on with introducing mandatory reporting, it could and should simply have adopted the Bill and ensured it was given parliamentary time. But nothing of the kind was proposed.”
Phil Johnson, who chairs Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), agreed. “It is disappointing that the Government response has been slow because the introduction of well-designed Mandatory Reporting Law (as proposed by MandateNow) is essential at the earliest opportunity. This would identify offenders and risk sooner, protect children and the vulnerable, and allow those who cover-up abuse and protect abusers to be held to account.”
Similarly, while accepting the need for a national redress scheme, the Government writes that “extensive engagement” — including with victims and survivors, local authorities, insurers, and lawyers — is needed to detail the “eligibility, types of redress available, the extent of any financial component, and application process”.
Mandate Now comments: “But no scheme was announced.” It concludes of the Government’s response: “The mountain hath laboured and brought forth a mouse.”
In a joint statement with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, the chair of IICSA, Professor Jay, said: “We are deeply disappointed that the Government has not accepted the full package of recommendations made in the final report. In some instances, the Government has stated that a number of them will be subject to consultations, despite the extensive research and evidence-taking which the Inquiry carried out over seven years.
“The package announced by the Government today will not provide the protection from sexual abuse that our children deserve. We ask the Government to reconsider and accept and enact all our recommendations in full.”
Mr Russell concluded: “We are concerned by the lack of any meaningful support for children and adult survivors. The commitments that have been made do not translate to immediate action which would achieve the scale of change required to create and sustain a national movement to prevent, recognise, and address child sexual abuse.
“It is disappointing that a significant number of the cross-sector recommendations that could have led to real change have been curbed by the Government, which is either narrowing them down or assuming that existing mechanisms already address the need.”
A General Synod member, Martin Sewell, who is a retired child-protection lawyer, took to Twitter to express his dismay. “The outrage over the Government’s weak and watery response to IICSA is happening as the Church continues to evade responding properly,” he wrote.
The Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, who chairs the International Development Select Committee, posted on Twitter: “It’s going to be really really hard to remain within parliamentary protocol as I question the Home Secretary on this pathetic response to the IICSA inquiry. 7 years of victims & survivors giving evidence and we get more ‘consultations’. Fuming.”
Richard Scorer, a lawyer who represents survivors, including of church-based abuse, remarked: “Government response to IICSA today is lame and vague. No real commitment to change. A total disgrace.”