The Royal College of Nursing has just won a case against a bureaucratic body in England that many may not have heard of, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). The victory is a fairly minimal one: it has been ruled that the ISA must confirm to some elements of fair procedure, and may not ban people from their professions automatically without hearing. None of the professional bodies or establishment human rights organisations such as Liberty appears to be challenging the principle of state vetting in employment. They are fussing about the procedure.
But to me this is an epitome of the degree of state intrusion into our lives that is now accepted in Britain as completely normal.
Here, from the Nursing Times report, are summaries of the cases on the basis of which the most recent ruling was made:
Mr O is a nurse with an exemplary record. Mr O’s wife left their children alone for a short time while Mr O was at work. Mr O’s wife was arrested and detained overnight and subsequently cautioned. Mr O attended the police station the following day voluntarily and was also cautioned. There is no suggestion that Mr O was aware that his wife intended to leave the children alone. However, on 2 March 2010, over nine months since Mr O accepted the caution, the ISA wrote to inform him that it had automatically included his name on the Children’s and Adults’ Barred Lists for a full 10 years. Mr O remained on the Barred Lists until 24 July 2010 until his name was removed after representations were made by the RCN. During this time he was unable to work as a clinical nurse.
Mrs W is a nurse who was automatically included on the Barred Lists for 10 years by ISA on 7 June 2010 after she had accepted a caution for leaving her 11-year-old son at home on his own when she went shopping. Mrs W’s case was referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council which made a finding after an investigation that she had no case to answer. Mrs W was unable to work as an agency nurse as she was prior to being placed on the Barred Lists and remained on unpaid leave. This placed her under significant financial pressures as a single parent responsible for her son. Mrs W was removed from the auto bar list on 18 August 2010 after the RCN made representations on her behalf.
For those who are unfamiliar with English criminal law, “accepted a caution” is a sort of plea bargain in the hands of the police. If one accepts a caution, one is admitting an offence in return for no further action being taken by police (except keeping a record on you, fingerprints and DNA, till you reach the age of 100). One might believe one was avoiding punishment. That would almost certainly be suggested by police (whose figures are improved and paperwork decreased by disposing of offences by caution). Nevertheless the routine admission of a minor offence can be used by distant bureaucrats (whether they give you a hearing or not) to deprive you of your career (and in the case of British nurses wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money in training). And not only that but such a decisions makes it a criminal offence for anyone to employ you in any capacity in medicine, education or social care. Mr O and Mrs W would have been barred not just from professional nursing, but scrubbing the lavatories in a school after hours, or driving a bus for the elderly. (Or even, by a bureaucratic version of magical contagion, a bus for carers for the elderly. see pdf Q.35)
And cautioned for what? In the one case leaving a near teenager alone for a short while. In the other for allowing (allowing!?) one’s wife to leave the children for less than a working day. Who knew these were criminal offences?
I want children to grow up to be independent. That means them learning to manage themselves as early as they can. Leaving your children on their own for short periods, perhaps overnight or for a weekend, with proper provision and knowledge of who to call in case of problems, is not criminal. It is fine. It is laudable.
But we live in a state that demands you not use your judgement, that cannot bear the possibility of error and learning. It fears mistakes enough that there are now rules about how you may bring up your family, requiring all minors to be treated as needy infants. All adults, on the other hand, whether at home or in their working lives, are deemed to be cruel monsters unless restrained by the threat of excommunication from the benevolent database.
The state knows what is right. The ISA was originally to use a checklist to assess lifestyles for ‘risk‘, though that has been deferred for the moment. You are either among the elect, or you are damned – and the ISA has a list saying which is which.