Why a neutered radicalism in social work may be to blame for the collapse in adult social care

Author and academic Terry Bamford’s Contemporary history of social work: learning from the past publishes today. In his guest post Terry charts the journey in social work influence from a 1970s heyday to the current situation where social workers are seen to be the blame rather than the balm for societies ills.

DSC_0335The impact on the NHS of the collapse of adult social care is now widely recognised. Cuts in local government funding have led to the dismantling of many discretionary services. Children’s services and adult care fulfil statutory responsibilities and little more.

It is a long way from the heady days of the Seebohm reforms and the 1970 Local Authority Social Services Act when social work was seen as the solution to social problems. The 1970s were the zenith of social work’s influence. Now social work itself is seen as the problem by some commentators who resist intrusion into family life by the state.

Social change and improvement

Social work has been preoccupied with social change and improvement since its emergence as a profession. The Charity Organisation Society, despite its moralising, had a deep concern for the poor. The settlement movement pioneered social action through its work in local communities.

Social work’s ethical code asserts the dignity and worth of each individual. It also emphasises a commitment to social justice. It thus combines the personal and the political. Yet the radicalism which energised social workers and led to their leading role in social reform seems to have been neutered. Why?

Local government was not a friendly environment for radicals. The ‘Seebohm factories’of social services departments led to the development of managerialism with its emphasis on procedures, protocols and checklists. The failure of the social workers strike to demonstrate the impact of social work led to a questioning of its relevance in the delivery of social care. A succession of child care tragedies called into doubt the competence of social workers.

“alternately vilified for not intervening to protect children and for acting precipitately without due cause…”

They found themselves alternately vilified for not intervening to protect children and for acting precipitately without due cause. Employers became more influential in shaping social work training around competencies. And these pressures on social work came at a time when neoliberal thinking became dominant.

Neoliberals saw the State and its manifestation in the public sector, as a threat to freedom and a brake on enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Outsourcing services to the private and voluntary sector was seen as the way to reduce the dominance of public sector. When community care funding was transferred from social security to local authorities it came with a requirement to spend 75%, and later 85%, in the independent sector.

The result was a wholesale transfer of residential and domiciliary care services to predominantly private sector providers. Residential children’s services are also increasingly being provided by the private sector. And now, echoing what has happened in probation with services tendered on a payment by results basis, the outsourcing of social work services is under consideration in government.

unequal society

The Narey review into social work education exposed the government’s view of social justice. He complained that social workers tended to over identify with parents seeing them as victims of an unequal society. This was attributed to the disproportionate attention given in training to anti-oppressive practice, empowerment and working in partnership with parents.

Social workers are already viewed with deep suspicion in deprived communities. The elements of social work education criticised by Narey are exactly what workers need if they are to work effectively with families. They see on a daily basis the havoc wrought by the benefits cap and the sanctions regime in social security. They see a disconnect between the language of politicians about welfare and growing inequalities. Social work needs to rediscover its message of social change and reform.

Of course there are risks for social work in speaking out. This government like its predecessors is sensitive to criticism. But social work needs to speak truth to power and spell out the consequences of current policies for the poor and vulnerable. By doing so it can rediscover its historic role of combining the personal and the political.

A contemporary history of social work [FC]Contemporary history of social work: learning from the past publishes today publishes today and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Would a Citizen’s Income make some people poorer than they are today?

The notion of a Citizen’s Income, an unconditional income for every individual as a right of citizenship, has been around for thirty years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of author and director of the Citizen’s Income Trust Dr Malcolm Torry. In today’s guest post, Dr Torry gives clarity and background to the recent debate over whether a Citizen’s Income would really leave some low-income families worse off.

Malcolm Torry, photo for websites, 2015An unconditional income for every individual as a right of citizenship would help to solve the problem of poverty and would create a more just society. This is no doubt why the Green Party voted to include a Citizen’s Income in its manifesto for the forthcoming General Election.

The details have not been published, but what is known is that the party intends a Citizen’s Income of £72 per week for every adult (less for children and young people, and more for elderly people), and that it would pay for it by abolishing personal tax allowances and means-tested benefits.

Current controversy around the Citizen’s Income was caused however by Andrew Neil’s interview with Natalie Bennett, the Leader of the Green Party. He suggested that because people would lose their personal tax allowance of something like £10,000, and would only receive £3,500 in Citizen’s Income, they would be worse off.

In making this suggestion it is clear that Neil had not understood that the cash value of a tax allowance is the value of the allowance multiplied by the tax rate; and Natalie Bennett didn’t pick him up on the mistake.

But even though the logic was erroneous, the idea was out there that a Citizen’s Income would lose people money.


The Green Party scheme might be similar to the Citizen Income Trust’s illustrative scheme that the Work and Pensions Select Committee published as evidence in 2006 and updated in 2013. There is no problem with affording this scheme, as the abolition of personal tax allowances, the abolition of means-tested benefits, and the restriction of pension contribution tax relief to the basic rate, would save enough money to pay for the whole of the UK population’s Citizen’s Incomes: but there is a problem with it.

For some low income households their Citizen’s Incomes would more than replace the value of their lost personal tax allowances, but they would not also replace the whole of their abolished Working Tax Credits.

Because the Citizen’s Income would never be withdrawn, additional earnings would produce more additional disposable income than additional earnings can produce in the context of means-tested benefits, so households suffering small losses at the point of implementation of a Citizen’s Income would be able to make them up quite easily by earning a little more. But this was clearly not a total solution, so more work was required.

In 2012 I used the Euromod modelling software maintained by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex to quantify the losses that low income households would experience; and during the summer of 2014 the Citizen’s Income Trust studied a number of schemes similar to our illustrative scheme. We found that we could reduce the losses but not eliminate them. So the search began for alternative methods of implementation.


Work I subsequently carried out using Euromod showed that a revenue neutral Citizen’s Income scheme need not impose losses on low income households at the point of implementation if means-tested benefits are left in place and households’ Citizen’s Incomes are taken into account as income when their means-tested benefits are calculated. The 2012 and 2014 results were published together in an Institute for Social and Economic Research working paper and have been republished in a recent edition of the Citizen’s Income Newsletter.

The Guardian’s Political Editor, Patrick Wintour, then read our website, telephoned me for a discussion, and wrote an article stating that the Citizen’s Income Trust had said that the Green Party’s Citizen’s Income scheme would impose losses on low income families.

We had not said that – in fact, we had never commented on the Green Party’s scheme, except to note that they intended to develop one for their manifesto: but by noticing the similarities between our illustrative scheme and what the Green Party had so far said about theirs, Patrick Wintour had drawn his own conclusion and published it as if it was ours.

“…it is perfectly possible to implement a genuine Citizen’s Income of £72 a week without imposing losses on low income households…”

What he did not emphasise, which he might have done, is that we had proved that it is perfectly possible to implement a genuine Citizen’s Income of £72 a week without imposing losses on low income households if means-tested benefits are retained and households’ Citizen’s Incomes are taken into account when their benefits are calculated.

What other journalists have correctly noted is that if additional tax revenue is raised, either through higher Income Tax rates, through the implementation of a financial transaction tax, or through some other new tax, then a larger Citizen’s Income would become affordable. This would eliminate losses on low income households, and possibly on all households, without means-tested benefits having to be retained.

On the plus side, Patrick Wintour’s article, and the many articles that have followed it, in the Guardian, the Times, the Financial Times, and elsewhere, have stimulated a substantial increase in the level of the debate, which is exciting for the Citizen’s Income Trust. We have never before had so many people asking to join our mailing list, our website has never experienced so many daily visits, and we have never had so many new Twitter followers.

Later this year  Policy Press will be publishing my new book, 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income. This will be a short introduction to the subject, and cheap enough to enable readers to give copies to their friends, colleagues and relatives.

The need for the book is clearly urgent, and I’m working as hard as I can to finish it.

You can keep up to date with Citizen’s Income by following them on twitter @Citizensincome

Torry-MoneyForEveryoneDr Malcolm Torry’s book Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income (Policy Press, 2013) is available at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

His new book 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income publishes later this year. Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest information on forthcoming publications, be part of the Policy Press community and access members special offers.

The Citizen’s Income Trust was formed from a group of people who had gathered together thirty years ago to discuss how they might promote debate on a Citizen’s Income (then and sometimes still called a Basic Income), they became the Basic Income Research Group, and then the Citizen’s Income Trust. They promote debate on the desirability and feasibility of a Citizen’s Income. They publish the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, maintain a library and a website, hold meetings and conferences, and respond to requests for information. They run on voluntary labour and a shoestring budget. More information is available via their website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

An urban geographer’s journey through the changing landscape of gentrification

Writer, urban geographer and guest blogger Loretta Lees has been researching gentrification on and off now for 27 years. Her interest was triggered as an undergraduate student by a tour of the gentrifying Lower East Side in New York City. In her post Loretta guides us through the journey that has led her to research and publish numerous books and papers on the subject…

Loretta picturesAs an undergraduate student in the summer of 1988 I took a tour of the gentrifying Lower East Side in New York City given by the late Marxist geographer Neil Smith. There was community division about the recently introduced 1am curfew on the previously 24 hour access to Tompkins Square Park and the tension was palpable. A couple of days later the Tompkins Square Park anti-gentrification riots exploded, largely attributed to the heavy-handed actions of the NYPD.


The Lower East Side about to gentrify (photo: Loretta Lees, 1988)

Since then the gentrification process has mutated almost beyond recognition. Much of the gentrification we see these days is not the classic type where old houses are refurbished but rather new-build gentrification on brownfield or cleared sites. Gentrification is rarely small-scale and individually-led now, it is large scale and state-led. The social cleansing of Tompkins Square Park, that led to the riots, already demonstrated to me back then the increasing support the state was giving to gentrification.

Comparative urbanism

My expertise is in British and North American cities but I have shifted over the past 5 years to look in more depth at other European cities and processes of urbanization in the Global South and East. A longstanding interest in comparative urbanism and a desire to learn more about gentrification outside the Global North informed my collaboration with Hyun Shin, Ernesto Lopez and the late sociologist Hilda Herzer (University of Buenos Aires).

Huan Bang Shin, LSE

Huan Bang Shin, LSE

Working together we ran two linked seminars, one in London and one in Santiago in Chile. We asked questions like: Has gentrification really gone global? Is gentrification in the global south and east a new phenomenon or can it be regarded as part of a historical continuity of urban segregation and class-led urban reconfiguration? Should we call it gentrification at all? How does a gentrification blueprint anticipate the geographical and historical specificity of places? How do gentrification policies emerge in different countries? How does gentrification play out differently in the predominantly non-white cities of the Global South and East?

Ernesto Lopez, University of Chile

Ernesto Lopez, University of Chile

Drawing on conversations with folk writing about gentrification in the Global South and East, and from international reviews of pre-existing and emerging gentrification literatures we set out to answer such questions by giving voice to academics not usually consulted. What was required of us was no mean feat: a comparative imagination that could respond to the post-colonial challenge of unpicking the ‘Northern theoretical’ reference points on gentrification. And this will have implications for how gentrification is conceived and how research is conducted. It means paying attention to issues of developmentalism, universalism and categorisation. The way we did this was to use a relational comparative approach that, as Ananya Roy suggests, uses one site to pose questions of another.

Going Glocal

But, even though my interests went global, my concerns about gentrification also remained local. For a while I went Glocal! As someone who had lived in council properties at various stages of her life across the UK, and whose father was an architect who designed council houses, I became concerned about the gentrification of council estates. Although there are cases elsewhere in the UK, the gentrification of council estates has been especially prolific in London, where I live.


The Heygate Estate, London, socially cleansed (Photo: Loretta Lees, 2013)

Wanting to do something about this I teamed up with JustSpace, the London Tenants Federation and Southwark Notes Archive Group and together we worked on a project titled ‘Challenging ”the New Urban Renewal”: gathering the tools necessary to halt the social cleansing of council estates and developing community-led alternatives for sustaining existing communities’. After research into displacement on five council estates in inner London and workshops with tenants and others to identify alternatives to this ‘regeneration’ we successfully launched our handbook Staying Put. The handbook explains how the ‘regeneration’ of council estates is often  ‘gentrification’ and seeks to help tenants not just to recognise this but to fight it too. I’m really proud of the fact that the handbook has been adopted in a number of Swedish cities confronting the same issues.

I am currently extending this work in a new project titled ‘AGAPE: Exploring anti-gentrification practices and policies in Southern European Cities’. I am working with an Italian urban scholar, Sandra Annunziata, on the ways in which anti-gentrification practices have fed through to anti-gentrification policies in Rome, Madrid and Athens. The interface between gentrification studies and socially-just urban policy remains a tough nut to crack, but we must continue to try.

You may like to follow Loretta on twitter @LorettaCLees or get in touch with her via email.

Global gentrifications [FC]Global Gentrifications: Uneven development and displacement which details the results of the research conducted by Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here

See other Policy Press books by Loretta Lees

Sustainable London?: the future of a global city, Policy Press, edited by Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees, 2014.

Mixed Communities: gentrification by stealth?, Policy Press, edited by Gary Bridge, Tim Butler and Loretta Lees, 2011.

You may also be interested in other titles on gentrification by Loretta Lees

Planetary Gentrification, by Loretta Lees, Hyun Shin and Ernesto Lopez-Morales, forthcoming Polity Press, Cambridge.

The London Tenants Federation, Lees,L, Just Space and Southwark Notes Archive Group (2014) Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London 

Loretta co-organises: The Urban Salon: A London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism

Listen to Loretta’s TEDxBrixton talk on Gentrification and a podcast of her talk on Ruth Glass at the 50th Anniversary of the coining of the term ‘gentrification’.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Can we save our town centres?

The state of Britain’s town centres is back on the political agenda, as many of our towns and cities continue in their struggle to survive, regenerate and prosper as social centres. In his guest post author and researcher Julian Dobson, whose book Save our town centres publishes today, shows the failure of depending on market forces to ‘solve’ the town centre problem.

Julian Dobson 2Last month local leaders across the UK who had pinned their hopes on plans to regenerate landmark sites in partnership with Tesco had to bin years of planning and negotiations: the giant retailer pulled out of schemes to develop 49 sites, dumping promises to create at least 8,000 jobs, more than 1,100 new homes and nearly 2.5m square feet of retail space.

Wolverhampton’s Royal Hospital, derelict for 14 years, was just one of the victims. Less than a year ago the local council leader, Roger Lawrence, was hailing a £65m scheme to bring the site back to life, create hundreds of jobs and revitalise the city centre.

Yet last month, local MP, Pat McFadden called Tesco’s decision to walk away from the redevelopment: “a betrayal of the people of Wolverhampton and a clear breach of the promise made to the people of the city.”


Frustration continues to typify the debate on the future of town centres. Local and national leaders place their faith in private developers and big retailers to rescue towns from decline, only to have those hopes dashed time and again.

Speaking in Parliament on 10 February Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, declared that town centres were: “threatened by all sorts of forces: not exactly evil forces, but forces of change.” His roll of shame included supermarkets, betting shops and takeaway food stores.

Two days later Northern Ireland’s minister for social development, Mervyn Storey, took up a similar theme at the Northern Ireland Town Centre Futures conference. He argued: “[there is an] urgent need to radically rethink how we regenerate and revitalise our town centres as multifunctional social centres.”

“The decline of our town and city centres has taken decades, exacerbated by…a naive faith that ‘the market’ will solve the problem it has created”

There are signs that this is starting to happen. In Bangor, Northern Ireland, artists have worked with the local council to bring a run-down parade of shops back to life. In Falkirk a series of festivals have created a buzz and sense of local pride.

But the real changes we need go much deeper than that. They involve rethinking how space is used, who has access to it and owns it, and where the economic, social and environmental benefits flow.

Naive faith

The decline of our town and city centres has taken decades, exacerbated by social and technological changes, unintelligent planning decisions, and a naive faith that ‘the market’ will solve the problems it has created. It may take as long to reconfigure town centres in ways that generate lasting local benefits.

Artist mural Stokes Croft, Bristol

Artist mural Stokes Croft, Bristol

But in the meantime there are powerful symbolic actions that can demonstrate the direction of travel that’s required. In Todmorden, West Yorkshire, local people are rethinking public space and creating a new narrative for their town by growing and sharing food. In Bristol, street artists have pioneered alternative futures for Stokes Croft, an area neglected for years by the city council and private landowners.

On London’s South Bank, Coin Street Community Builders has shown how creating affordable homes for local people rather than yet another bleak office city can bring lasting benefits for everyone, opening up the riverside as a public space and preserving a diverse community in a city that is increasingly the preserve of the affluent.

Such symbolic actions can signpost new ways of thinking of urban space as part of the ‘commons’, the shared resources from which we all benefit and for which we all share a responsibility.

The challenge of town centres is a microcosm of the challenges of 21st century society: how to create an economy that works for all, how to create good places to live in, how we construct our identity in a world in which life is increasingly commoditised. There aren’t any quick and easy solutions, but despite the continued angst over the future of our towns and cities I believe there are many reasons to be hopeful. That hope is found in the places where people have been ready to challenge the assumption that wealth will trickle down to localities from corporate activity, and where they have begun to define the value of places and spaces on their own terms and in response to local needs.

How to save our town centres [FC]How to Save Our Town Centres publishes today and is available from Policy Press. It can be purchase from the website with a 20% discount by clicking here.

You can also follow Julian on twitter @urbanpollinator

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks': Criminology and Criminal Justice

This is the first in our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’ in which our editors tell you a little bit about themselves and share some of their thoughts on the titles they are most excited about publishing. With our newsletter focus on Criminology this month (sign up here!), Commissioning Editor Victoria Pittman tells us a bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Criminology and Criminal Justice titles and why she can’t complain about the length of the book on her bedside table…

Victoria Pittman

Victoria Pittman, Commissioning Editor

Name: Victoria Pittman
Title: Commissioning Editor

What’s your story? 
I studied English and European Literature at the University of Warwick and my first job in publishing was an Editorial Assistant at Blackwell Publishing (before the Wiley takeover/merger). It was in the Medical Division and my first books were about Cardiology which was both fascinating and alarming. It taught me that academic publishing is about learning from experts rather than thinking you know everything about a subject area. After moving on to work as a Development Editor at Blackwell, I then joined the Law Department at OUP where I worked for five years and was the Commissioning Editor responsible for the Criminal Law list as well as other areas before moving to Policy Press in 2013.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
My role involves commissioning and developing new content across the subject areas I am responsible for and then managing those lists whilst liaising closely with my colleagues in sales, marketing and production. I think editorial and commissioning is the most exciting area of publishing as you get to work closely with authors and be involved right from the conception of a project. I love learning from people who are passionate about their subject area and then working with them to bring their research and knowledge to its intended audience.

What most excites you about your subjects?
I am responsible for our lists in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Sociology and Social Justice and Human Rights. This covers a huge range of topics and so many important issues. I am always particularly excited about the titles which include really unique and interesting research with hard to reach groups or on areas which have been previously neglected. For example our book Domestic violence and sexuality by Catherine Donovan and Marianne Hester offers new research and the first detailed discussion of domestic violence and abuse in same sex relationships.

What key things are happening in Criminology at Policy Press this year?
We have some brilliant titles publishing on the Criminology and Criminal Justice list this year, I really want to list them all! As this is a growing area for us, it is nice to see such a variety of titles and to be working with lots of great authors.

This month we’ve seen a particularly important one released: Children behind bars: Why the abuse of child imprisonment must end by Carolyne Willow exposes the harsh realities of penal child custody. Some of the stories are particularly shocking and it’s important that more people know about the realities faced by children who are locked up in these places.

I’m also looking forward to seeing our new textbook An introduction to critical criminology publish as I think it will be really valuable for students and lecturers in this area. Pamela Ugwudike who teaches this course at Swansea has managed to cover an incredible amount of material in an accessible way, covering topics such as Marxist criminology, crimes of the powerful, and cultural criminology.

Other highlights include Positive youth justice: Children first, offenders second by Kevin Haines and Stephen Case, Intermediaries in the criminal justice system by Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson and Simon Pemberton’s new book in our Studies in Social Harm series, Harmful societies.

There will be lots of others as well, including some new Policy Press Shorts such as Female Serial Killers by Elizabeth Yardley and David Wilson and Privitising probation by John Deering and Martina Feilzer.

What interests you particularly in Criminology and Criminal Justice?
I find the books on reforming and improving the criminal justice system the most interesting but also enjoy reading about advances in solving crime and the investigative side. My Dad is a police detective (technically retired from the police force now but I will always think of him as a policeman!) and he has done a lot of work on forensics which always fascinates me.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – it’s our book group book and I chose it so I can’t complain about how long it is!

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?
If the earth was about to be destroyed and you could only take one book with you to another planet, which one would you take?


If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy:

Children behind bars: Is it time to close our child prisons? by author Carolyne Willow

What really goes on Inside Crown Court? by Victoria Pittman

With love, from Policy Press…6 scholarly insights on love, marriage and commitment


Photo credit: Shena Pamela

Well Valentine’s day is only hours away. It’s possible, as a Policy Press blog reader, that all the hearts and roses commercial nonsense is more turn off than turn on for you. Never fear, we have the perfect antidote for the more cerebrally romantic amongst you…

…half a dozen beautifully researched journal pieces hand plucked from the garden of scholarly delights that is our Families, Relationships and Societies journal (FRS) for your delectation. Dive in!


1) What’s love got to do with marriage? by Khatidja Chantler – FRS 3.1

2) Authenticity, work and change: a qualitative study on couple intimacy by Luana Cunha Ferreira; Isabel Narciso and Rosa Novo – FRS 2.3

3) The making of selfhood: naming decisions on marriage by Rachel Thwaites – FRS 2.3

4) The globalisation of love? Examining narratives of intimacy and marriage among middle-class Gujarati Indians in the UK and India by Katherine Twamley – FRS 2.2

5) What is commitment? Women’s accounts of intimate attachment by Julia Carter – FRS 1.2

6) Living together in a sexually exclusive relationship: an enduring, pervasive ideal? by Richard Lampard – FRS FT

with lots of love

Policy Press


FRS 2013 [FC]P.S. If we’ve piqued your interest in our journal Families, Relationships and Societies then don’t be shy, go on over to the journals page on our website and get to know each other even better….

Children behind bars: Is it time to close our child prisons?

Haunted by the restraint-related deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood in prisons run by G4S and Serco, Carolyne Willow spent 18 months collecting information about young offender institutions and secure training centres.

Her book ‘Children behind bars: why the abuse of child imprisonment must end’, which details the findings of her research, publishes today. In a guest post for us, Carolyne shares the shock she felt at the bleak and murky world of child prisoner abuse uncovered by her research.

Carolyne Willow

Carolyne Willow

Although I had been close to the issues of child prisoner treatment for getting onto 20 years, I discovered there was still much for me to learn. The transfer of methods, and perpetrators, between different institutional settings was one revelation.

I hadn’t realised, for example, that the ringleader of the sadistic abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View had honed his techniques whilst working in a young offender institution.

Nor did I know that Frank Beck, the country’s most notorious children’s homes manager, used the ‘rib distraction’ (sharply driving fingers or knuckles into the child’s ribs) technique. Several years after Beck was sentenced to five life sentences plus 24 years for his systematic abuse of children in care, this was one of three brutal restraint techniques approved for use in secure training centres.


I was horrified by the scale of alleged abuse in Medomsley detention centre in Durham, now reported by 950 former inmates. The account of boys lying at the foot of the stairs so others could jump on their legs and break them, as the only means of leaving the institution and escaping further abuse, is heartbreaking.

Sexual abuse in Downview women’s prison, which also held girls, was also news to me. Civil servants refused to release the report from the prison service’s internal investigation, though they disclosed that action was taken against four prison officers between 2009 and 2013.

Other information I elicited points to children being sexually abused in that prison. Successive parliamentary questions about prison officer sexual abuse have been rebutted on cost grounds. I can only imagine how Louise Casey would have reacted had Rotherham councillors dared use this ‘disproportionate cost’ excuse for lack of data during her recent inspection of the authority’s action on child sexual exploitation.

After months of pursuing information on child prisoner abuse, I was told 62 prison officers working with children in nine state prisons were disciplined for abuse between 2009 and 2013 – six of these for an ‘inappropriate relationship with a prisoner/ex-prisoner’.

“…in the words of the sentencing judge, [William John Payne] was able to sexually assault a child prisoner ‘at every opportunity’”

My information requests to councils and police forces for the first time give a picture of children’s allegations, and the inadequate response of child protection agencies. Even when prison officers have been convicted, as with William John Payne – who, in the words of the sentencing judge, was able to sexually assault a child prisoner ‘at every opportunity’ – child protection follow-up seems non-existent.

The local authority in which that prison is located couldn’t give me rudimentary data on abuse allegations made by children. It did, however, say no serious case reviews were held during the relevant period. Serious case reviews are initiated when a child dies or has been seriously harmed and there are concerns about safeguarding. Payne had been a prison officer for 30 years.

Fear, hunger, deprivation of fresh air and exercise, physical abuse and desperate loneliness are ubiquitous in child prisons. Thirty-three boys have died since 1990. A single government department was responsible for the 19 prisons in which 31 of the children died, and the Youth Justice Board managed contracts with the multinationals running the two secure training centres in which Gareth and Adam died.

routine strip-searching

Prison policy demanded the routine strip-searching of child inmates until last year, with thousands of children forced to suffer the degradation of adults in uniforms inspecting their bodies. Those who refused would be held down and their clothes yanked off, sometimes with ‘safety scissors’.

Stripping children naked was part of the authorised procedure for transferring them to the ‘block’ (segregation). This is one of many penal practices I hope Justice Lowell Goddard will scrupulously investigate during her inquiry into sexual abuse and exploitation from the 1970s onwards, which has prisons and ‘secure’ institutions listed within its remit.

Long before the judge reports, however, our remaining child prisons must close, whatever the financial cost. It’s time for the hamster-wheel of reforms and rebrands to stop. Chris Grayling’s self-indulgent plans for new penal institutions – the ‘secure college’ – should be graciously donated to a museum of Victorian childhood.

Children suffer in prison precisely because they are in prison; that is the truth. New centres of excellence modelled on the best of secure children’s homes, and international evidence, is the only way forward. Clinging onto child prisons in the face of the devastating evidence is far more than covering up abuse. It is perpetuating it.

Related links

Guardian article 11 February 2015 – Carolyne Willow: ‘We closed workhouses, let’s get rid of child prisons’

Children behind bars [FC]Children behind bars: why the abuse of child imprisonment must end publishes today and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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Publishing with a purpose

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