Reflections on Rotherham: part 3 of 3

September 16, 2014 1 comment

In parts 1 and 2 of this critique of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) I made the case that, while there is a political imperative to regard the report as gospel – reflected in the almost immediate drafting of Jay as specialist adviser into the public inquiry to be chaired by the Lord Mayor of London – the report isn’t actually all that good.  While there is a good level of detail, the analysis is weak in many places, and in relation to “the ethnicity issue” and the question of organisational failure in the council in particular, this weak analysis has created the conditions for a misguided and ultimately counterproductive response to the very real and very growing problem of CSE.

In summary form, Jay a) kowtows, in spite of evidence to the contrary which she herself sites, to the idea that some kind of ‘assault on political correctness’ will be a helpful response; b) fails to take into proper account the failures of managerialism in the 1990s and 2000s, with the result that the response is likely to involve greater managerialism at the expense of what is really needed, which is greater professional autonomy.

There is, though, one other big flaw in the report, and it’s to this that part 3 now turns.   It’s left till last partly because it has not to date even seen as a issue worthy of note, but also because an analysis of it opens the door to actual solutions to the CSE crisis being experienced across the country.

Here’s the key sentence, at para 9.4, describing the approach of Risky Business the voluntary, youth worker-led agency which was financially supported by the Council:

Risky Business adopted an outreach approach, based on community development principles. That is, it started where the young person was; it concerned itself with the whole person and addressed any issues that the young person brought to the relationship; it did not prescribe or direct. Its methods were complementary to those of the statutory services. Its success depended upon the skills of the individual worker and the level of trust which young people were willing to commit to it.

Quite simply, Jay is wrong.  While it seems clear that Risky Business has been an innovative organisation doing some really good work with vulnerable young people, what is described here is not a community development approach; it may be a client-led approach, it may even be validly called an advocacy-based approach, but it’s not an approach which develops the community.

So what is community development, how is it different from what Risky Business do, and why is that important now [1]?

For me, community development is one or more of the following, often interrelated acts:

a) organising with other people so that what comes of our actions is greater than the sum of its parts;

b) organising with other people (the “community”) to develop support structures and ‘fight back’ options for (ex-)vulnerable people, which kick in as and when the state fails or isn’t there ;

c) organising with other people to require that the state changes its systems so that needs are better met;

d) organising with other people to require that the state acknowledge the legitimacy of what you have set up as part of a) and b) with other people, and support it.

Now of course this rough definition can be contested and refined, but what seems clear is that Risky Business wasn’t involved in any of those things, at least in term of its CSE work.  They identified and worked well with vulnerable young people, referred them into the social care system and got appropriately angry/advocational when those young people remained at risk, but they weren’t in the business of organising systems change or community-wide resilience and fight-back.

Jay’s key conceptual mistake, then, is to suggest that community development as a response to CSE was available but untapped by the social care system.  It wasn’t.   But in making this mistake, Jay does unknowingly do us a service, because,  at least to the critical reader, she identifies the space that needs to be filled in future by social work professionals.

This for me, as someone now quite involved in child protection innovation, is the most important challenge which this critical engagement with the Jay report.  The challenge for social workers, and social work educators behind them, is to start to fill the community development space, such that communities themselves generate safer, happier environments for children and young people.

There isn’t space here for a full exposition of the theory and practice of a move by social workers to (re)fill the community development space [2], but the key features I would want to see are:

i) an approach embedded in a coherent theory of practice, based on Sen’s capabilities approach and inclusive of his too often disregarded social choice element, whereby social workers facilitate debate and agreement with local communities about how they come together to achieve their agreed ‘common good’;

ii) social workers as unashamed agents for systems change [3], using their ‘all round’ skills and competencies to draw in and motivate not just local people but other agencies, such as Risky Business-style youth workers;

iii) an understanding that, when it comes to CSE, the scale of the problem is not just huge in itself as a result of the societal change I wrote about in part 1 [4] but also because it is linked to a growing trend of inter-child sexual abuse, where girls become vulnerable about their own identity (effectively convinced they are are little more than sexual playthings) even before or as they become exposed to exploitation by adults.   Related to this is the acceptance of and strategies to cope with the fact that the problem is simply too large for their to be anything other than a community-based response;

iv) a strategy for community development which is resolutely race-blind so as to avoid the consequences of social stereotyped responses, but is ‘network alert’ i.e. understands and is able to target the actual networks perpetrators use, irrespective of ethnicity.

v) builds on the best of the Sure Start model in terms of working with local communities as above, but sees the possible locus of action in much wider terms, so that; social choice; agreements, for example, are developed in local retail (and here the union movement will be vital), in and around transport hubs etc.  (here we are talking about child protection in general as well as CSE).  Thus, while it’s good to recognise the work that people like Risky Business have done in training e.g. taxi drivers and dog walkers, we need to recognise that without the community development catalysm integrated into that training, such work will not be very effective.

vi) an acceptance that such a dramatic shift in social work practice will not go unchallenged by those who have a vested interest in creating a new, ‘shallower’ form of social worker who is less interested in the ‘social’, and more in forms of control over ‘troubled families’.



[1] It’s also worth noting, though less crucial a background to what I advocate in terms of a renewed community development approach from social workers, that Jay also talks uncritically of a ‘child protection approach’, adopted by social work teams and in supposed opposition to the community development approach she ascribes to Risky Business.   It’s never actually clear what she means by ‘child protection model’ (para. 9.14) but we can assume she’s referring to the process of risk assessment and intervention that she describes within the report.  I think to call this THE child protection approach is wrong, as it’s just as valid to describe the community development , Sen-based approach as an (effective) child protection approach.

[2] I am currently working on a document for DfE which does exactly that, and may publish a version of it here next month

[3]  I actually prefer the term “institutional architects” but it needs more of a narrative before it’s used more widely.

[4] I now recognise that in setting out these social changes I didn’t refer sufficiently to the phenomenon of male ‘emasculation’ and its connection to a misogynic attitudes.  Reading Phil’s useful piece on Rotherham reminded me of that.

Managing betrayal

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

A local story, this one, but one which reflects the power of whoever gets to say we should be grateful.

In 2008, we got very excited by the £350m+ redevelopment of Skelmersdale.  The developer told us

This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Skelmersdale to deliver a new heart for the town with brand new facilities that will not only benefit everyone who lives, works and visits the town, but also bring in much-needed investment.

It didn’t happen.  House prices fell, you see, so the developer wasn’t very keen anymore.

In 2012, we got excited by the new plans for a £20m investment, with 350 jobs.   St Modwen’s, still the council’s development partner, because the council is shite at contracting, said:

The council’s decision on the planning application brings the vision for the town centre one step closer in the process.  The participation of the local community has really supported the efforts of the partners, who have worked hard to keep the plans alive throughout these challenging times.

How nice of him.

And West Lancashire Borough Council Tory council said:

The regeneration of Skelmersdale town centre will bring huge benefits to everyone in the borough, not just those living in the town.

On 5% of the original deal.  Wow, that was efficient.

It didn’t happen, though.

In 2014, we’re supposed to get excited about a planned £4m investment, bringing 40 jobs.  The new developer says:

The cinema, along with the restaurants and cafes, would be a real boost to the local economy and we hope that we can start work on the complex in the new year.  We’re committed to playing a significant role in the ongoing improvement of Skelmersdale.

Wow, on 1% of the original deal.



Categories: General Politics

Dillow and me

September 8, 2014 2 comments

This amused me mildy:

Chris Dillow, 7th Setpember 2014:

It was not Keynes who convinced capitalists of the need for full employment but Lenin.

Me, 12th September 2009:

[F]ar for being a pro-active economic strategy to bring sustained growth and harmony, Keynesianism was a reaction to the social upheaval of the 30 years leading up to the publication of The General Theory in 1936. As Antoni Negri put it in 1968:

“The October Revolution had once and for all introduced a political quality of subversion into the material needs and struggles of the working class, a specter that could not be exorcised……….Once the antagonism was recognised, the problem was to make it function in such a way as to prevent one pole of the antagonism breaking free into independent destructive action.”

Of course, in Britain it wasn’t simply the October Revolution that gave capitalism enough of the collywobbles to allow Keynesian thinking to emerge into the light of day; in the early 1930s not only will European revolutionary activity have been well in mind, but the effective actions of the Social Democratic Federation in the 1890s would still have been well in memory, just as the violence during the miners’ strikes and at Wapping are etched on the minds, and not a few skulls, of my generation.

But the key point is clear, the strategy of full employment creation through demand push expansion came about because capitalism and capitalists were scared of what might happen if they didn’t pacify the working class.

Chris has always been just that little bit for succinct.  Which I guess is why people read him, not me.

Categories: General Politics

Reflections on Rotherham: part 2 of 3

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Introduction to part 2

In part 1 of this critical engagement Professor Alexis Jay’s report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, the focus was mainly on the factors which drove the upsurge in CSE in the late 1990s and 2000s, rather than the council’s and other agencies’ response to that upsurge.  Clearly, though, the way in which those ‘external’ factors took effect during the period had an effect on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the response by those agencies.

In part 1, I made two main points in particular about the weaknesses in the Jay report in respect of these factors.  Here in part 2, I’ll expand somewhat on the implications of these, and of how the reports interprets them, before moving on to the ‘internal’ institutional dynamics of the agencies response to CSE, and will again suggest that the analysis by Jay is inadequate, and indeed potentially counterproductive at a national level, given her new role as adviser to the public inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announced in July.

In part 3, I’ll move on to what I think is the biggest conceptual flaw in the Jay report – the failure to grasp what community development actually is  - and I’ll finish with an assessment of what does actually need to be done to stop and prevent the growth of CSE (and child abuse more generally), and offer some suggestions on how we might move in that direction.  Needless to say, these suggestions won’t involve manadatory reporting, which is at best a distraction, or fabricating evidence so that staff can be disciplined, as the MP for Rotherham is now apparently suggesting.  Sadly, Labour has been utterly useless in its response so far, and this is my attempt to help it respond better, before it is too late.

Ethnicity and political correctness

In part 1 I suggested that the report lacked the courage of some of its convictions about the “issue of ethnicity” (as one of the report chapters is entitled), with Jay going to lengths to say that ethnicity cannot possibly be seen as a predictor of child abuse perpetration, before backtracking and accepting that future work to combat CSE may have to confront ‘cultural issues’.  I then set out an alternative way of approaching the matter, in a way that not only allows for a ‘race-blind’ approach to tackling CSE, but which is actually more effective because it is race-blind i.e. it is not caught up by extraneous issues of ethnicity, but focuses on the actual material circumstances which are predictive of CSE [1].

This is important stuff because, if we accept that race-blind intervention to stop and then prevent CSE is not only possible but more effective than ethnicity-focused intervention [2], much of the criticism, itself based in the report on little more than hearsay, that police, council staff and councillors betrayed children because they weren’t courageous enough to ‘take on political correctness’ – becomes an irrelevance.

Maybe, just maybe, the managers and councillors were correct in their approach. Maybe, just maybe, being politically correct can be correct in terms of lived outcomes as well as votes.

That’s not to say that sending the Home Office researcher off on diversity training course for using the word ‘Asian’ in a report was the correct thing to do; this does sound cack-handed, as it is pretty well impossible to imagine a Home Office researcher into CSE having anything other than a good understanding of diversity issues, and therefore open to a reasonable debate, based on the kind of evidence I produced in part one about circumstance being the overriding predictor, about whether her approach was reasonable.   Her mistreatment, though, may have more to do with the dominant masculine managerialism referred to in the Jay report (and which I analyse below) than with the fact that she was right and they were wrong about the fundamentals of the best way to tackle the CSE epidemic.

Maybe it was the other way round.  Maybe the managers were right.  Maybe she was wrong.

Let”s be blunt, then. Even though the report hedges it is bets – “Recommendation 14 reads: The issue of race should be tackled as an absolute priority if it is a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised child sexual abuse in the Borough)” – this very hedging means that the media and popular reaction to the report has focused on the need to overcome political correctness and focus on ethnicity a way to prevent further abuse.

The Jay report may therefore end up doing children currently being exploited and at risk of exploitation more harm than good.

The perfect storm: external meets internal

Also in part 1, suggested that a key weakness in the Jay report – though this may have more to do with the terms of reference and timescales than Jay and her team’s own capacities – is the failure to assess why the incidence of CSE has risen.  My own answer to this question is linked to the argument above about circumstance over ethnicity, and argues that the rise of mobile and social media technology, plus the easy availability of internet porn as a progressively misogynsing factors [link to Us article], creates both the ‘motivation’ and opportunity to develop exploitative techniques.  Jay’s relative failure to assess the surge in incidence feeds into the over-emphasis on ethnicity.  It also incidentally allows her a route out of commenting properly on the horribly inequitable funding of the council as a whole; while she notes the 33% loss of spending power in Rotherham in comparison with 4.8% in Buckinghamshire (para 12.14) , there is no recommendation as to what might be done about such clear inequity.

But this is just one part the ‘perfect storm’ that hit those principally and statutorily responsible for protecting children – frontline social workers.   The other factors which hit children’s social care staff in the crucial period were understaffing – I’m not sure how any council department might be expected to operate with a vacancy rate of 43% (para 12.2) – and the rampant managerialism which took hold of public services delivery in the 1990s and 2000s.

I should be clear what I mean by managerialism, a term not used in the Jay report itself but which I use here to reflect the kind of events she describes (but doe not fully analyse) in her report..  I mean the ideologically-motivated assumption that if public services (indeed services of any kind) are subject to improved management targets and controls, then the quality of that services is bound to improve.  This assumption, as Chris Dillow has set out on his blog and in his fine book New Labour and the folly of managerialism is wrong, not least because what may be gained through ‘efficiencies’ is lost through diminished professional/worker autonomy.

This we can see from the Jay report, is precisely what happened in Rotherham in the 2000s.   The account at paras 6.21-6.24 about how social worker time was remorselessly squeezed away from both preventative and vital followup work is not just an account of understaffing.  When I asked frontline social workers in my area about this section, they actually burst out laughing at the idea that there might not have been downward pressure to increase “throughput” (the beautifully managerial term used by Jay at para. 6.23); of course frontline professionals would deny that they had submitted to such pressures, they told me, as that would make them look unprofessional in the eyes of Jay’s team (and therefore open to disciplinary measures for loss of professional standards), but of course they will have submitted to pressures – how, if there were no such pressures, would have the question of such pressure have arisen in the first place?

Perhaps even more revealingly, Jay covers the role played by Barnardo’s in the removal of professional autonomy, through the introduction of a “numeric scoring system” (para 6.38).  Jay detiails how, while managers may claim otherwise in their interviews (again, understandably in the view of possible sanctions), frontline social workers make it quite clear that there was little room for them to exercise professional judgment and override the scoring system where they felt the scoring was underplaying the actual risk at which children found themselves.

Again, I asked experienced children’s social workers, with whom I come into contact for me work, what they thought of these paragraphs in the Jay report (they had not read the report at that stage, so I paraphrased Jay but referred specifically to the Barnardo’s scoring system, which is well-known and in widespread use.  These colleagues answered to the effect that the Barnardo’s scoring model is deficient not just because it doesn’t, of itself, allow for professional judgment alongside the scoring, but that professional judgment is actively excluded by the insistence on the need, within the scoring process, for concrete evidence.

The (recent) example I was given of a teenage girl who had been found by police (involved in other crime detection work) on an edge-of-town caravan park, miles from home, and in a place unfamiliar to her family.  There was no evidence that she was on that night subject to sexual exploitation and so, despite the putting of two and two together by social workers, the risk assessment as scored downplayed a risk obvious to pretty well everybody involved in the case.

It is not always thus.  One of the local authorities that my work connects with had looked at the Barnardo’s mode in the mid-2000s and, because they remained open to some real frontline social worker interaction, had chosen not to go with the ‘best practice’ Barnardo’s model, but instead asked frontline social workers to develop their own model for standardised assessment.

What to make of all this?  Well, the first thing to mention is the level of control that Barnado’s, a voluntary sector organisation dominated by a controversial Chief Executive, appear to have had not only over Rotherham but across a swathe of local authorities in England.  While a voluntary organisation in legal definition, Barnardo’s size and capacity to undercut smaller organisations and in-house provision, combined with its clever marketing means that it has become something of an untouchable. Even here, where the finger has been pointed at Barnardo’s for the introduction of a scoring model which is demonstrably not ‘best practice’, or even good practice, the (otherwise very good) Rotherham Council response to the Jay report continues to refer to it in these hallowed terms, and to make clear that it use will continue.  Here is not the place to delve in detail into the relationship between Barnardo’s (and its arc-rival NCH) and the state, but it is worth stressing that if you are going to act effectively as an arm of the state,  then you really need to be held to the same standards as the state.  On this occasion, at least, this hasn’t happened.

The second, broader, point to make about this section of the Jay report is that, while Jay set out well the way frontline social worker were subject to managerialist influences to the detriment of their professional judgement [3], she probably fails to reach the correct conclusions on the basis of these findings.  Instead of pointing out how the managerialism which spread across local authorities in the 1990s and 2000s at the expense of professional autonomy – some of this because of contracting out to bodies like Barnardo’s – may have caused the practice failures she uncovers, Jay instead opts for another broad explanatory factor: the aggressive. ‘macho’ culture which dominated the council in the same period.   Yet no direct link is apparent between this macho culture and poor practice outcomes for children.

It seems to me that a more indirect explanation is brought forward while an indirect one is ignored, either because it is inconvenient or – I suspect more likely – the idea that managerialism night be a problem lies beyond Professor Jay’s conceptual paradigm of how a local authority should operate.  This is not to say that councillor and senior officer misogyny and aggression did played no part in what happened, but it is also possible that this cultural aspect of the council’s failure was fed and watered by the ideological and institutional factors which came into local government from Thatcher onwards, whereby management efficiencies become more important than professional relationships in a way which then fostered ‘black box’-style – I don’t care how the target is met, just meet the target – approaches to management [4].

Again, this is not just esoteric wondering about the background causes to the Rotherham failures; establishing why the failures happened is essential to ensuring that they don’t happen in future.  If the public eqnuiry on which Professor Jay will act as a key adviser and is chaired by a key proponent of privatization, accepts her analysis that macho, male-dominated councils are at the heart of the problem, then the solution will lie in human resources practice to ensure that more women are in top positions and /or that macho practice is trained and developed out of people.  If, as I contend we should, the key problem is actually that professional autonomy has been stripped away from professionals (and from professional training), then the answers lie elsewhere.  This will be a key battleground in the inquiry process, but at the moment the managerialists hold the higher ground.

That’s enough for part 2.  Part 3, covering the key conceptual failure of the Jay report, and recommendations for action on the part of those willing to think and act in the interests of children, as opposed to the need to be seen to be angry, will follow soon.



[1] There is a straight analogy with the application of English law here.  The basic principle is that an offender is prosecuted for an offence, not for the type of offender s/he is, although when assessing the level of offence it is leigtimate to take into account other offences committed to establing an offending pattern.  It seems odd therefore, for people interested in ‘British values’ to be arguing that there should be a focus on offender profiling rather than offence profiling when it comes to CSE.

[2] Another question arises here about the ‘issue of ethnicity”:  if CSE were in fact ethnic culture-driven, rather than circumstance-driven, what would we actually do about it?  Is Jay actually suggesting that priority should be given to changing culture in some way, over and above measures to intervene tactically in the circumstances which we know actually create CSE opportunities?  If so, this would seem to be anti-PC gone maaaad, a desperate attempt to paficy the Islam-correlates-with-rape crowd at the expense of children’s futures?

[3] It occurs to me that this may seem like too strong a defence of frontline social workers.  After all, whatever managerialist influences they were subject to, they are still professionals, with professional standards, so should n’t we have expected them to stand up better to their bosses.  The answer to this question is yes, we should, but my argument here (as elsewhere) is that moral condemnation of staff – and their sacking – does nothing about professional competence in the long term; we need to establish why and how professional didn’t feel able to act up to professional standards, and a failure to do so will be a like act of gross political failure (as well as failure in social work training, which i’ll cover in part 3)

Here is not the place to go into loss of professional ethics and standards in detail, other than to say that there is a rich seam of ressearch literature on the subject, for those politically professional enough to engage with it.  It’s called, broadly, Implementation Studies, and starts with the seminal work of Michael Lipsky (1980), which details how frontline professionals move, in certain circumstances, from autonomy and advocacy towards alienation and disregard for their clients as whole human beings.  It ends, for me at least for now, with this detailed qualitiative study of how even Finnish welfare professionals are subject to managerialism and see their work get worse as a result.

[4] The best read I know on this post-Thatcher trend, other than Chris Dillow’s book, is Gerry Stoker’s (2004) Transforming Local Governance: From Thatcherism to New Labour.  Here’s how he summaries managerialism:

Managerialism……..began in the 1980s and 1990s to take an increasingly strong hold in local government.  This ideology saw political leadership as important in setting direction but beyond that a potential source of inefficiency.  Politicians should set goals but not dictate the means to achieve them. The key to managerialism is its emphasis on the right of managers to mange against inappropriate interference from politicians or, for that matter, the special pleading of professional groups (p.13, my italics)



Daily member union link shocker

September 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Ah, you’ve got to love the Daily Mail sometimes*.

Here’s it’s latest shocking revelation:

A total of 190 prospective Labour MPs have links to any trade union.

Mind you, here’s Chapter 5, Clause 2, para £A (iv) of the Labour rule book:

Every Labour MP and MEP must be a member of a trade union

So not that shocking a revelation.


* Not true.


Categories: Labour Party News

Reflections on Rotherham: part 1 of 3

September 1, 2014 4 comments

I’ve read and re-read the Alexis Jay report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, and now feel able to comment.  Actually reading a report properly before commenting on it is, I well understand, something of a minority sport nowadays, but one I grew used to in the days before the absolute need to offer comment within minutes of publication.

Anyway, There are a number of things that stand out for me, and which I’ll cover in two longish commentaries:

1) The reports’s good, but not that good, and shouldn’t be taken as gospel

The Francis report into the poor care at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust was immediately hailed as everything that needed to be known and done about both mid-Staffs and the NHS in general.  In parliament, Labour called for the implementation of all the report’s recommendations even before it was physically possible to have read it.  In fact, it turned out that some of the recommendations were misguided, and reflected a good deal of ignorance on the part of Francis and his team.

The Jay report, while more limited in scope (it makes no national level recommendations, as it was commissioned by the local authority) falls into the same bracket, because it can be bent – knowing that most people won’t actually read it) to most pre-established agendas: it’s all about race; it’s not all about race; it’s all about leadership; it’s all about reporting.  Whatever your agenda is, you’ll find something in there to back your claim.

In fact, the report’s a good report, especially given the tight time constraints against it which it was battered out (the grammatical errors are testament to that), and offers very important insights and details, but it’s far from a great report, carrying great authority (to be fair to Jay, such authority is never claimed).

While it’s very good on both the institutional attempts and failures to get to grips with the situation, and on the the harrowing details of the exploitation of young people, the analysis in several places in inconsistent or non-existent.  This is crucial when it comes to the ethnicity issue (see below), to which a specific chapter is devoted, precisely because it now allows those with pre-set agendas to cherry-pick, but it several other areas too the report provides more questions than answers.

Perhaps the best that can be said of the report is that while it doesn’t format those questions well itself, a reasonable critical analysis of the findings should contribute to the formulation of a good set of questions for the fuller public inquiry into nationwide child sexual exploitation, which Labour is now (rightly) proposing and which should be allowed to build on rather than replace the work being done by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (which is properly referenced in the Jay report).

2) The question of ethnicity

The question of whether being an Asian man makes you more likely to sexually exploit children because of your “culture” is the one that has dominated the media.  The Jay report itself appears conflicted.  The chapter on ethnicity starts with a categorical enough statement:

As has been stated many times before, there is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation, and across the UK the greatest numbers of perpetrators of CSE are white men (para 11.2).

This suggests that those arguing for ‘race-blind’ protection and prosecution. Sunny Hundal, for example, argues, using the same assertion in the Jay report that:

There is certainly a problem here but its not about race or religion – it is about misogyny and a desire to subjugate women……The men preyed on these girls because they were weak or because they were physically or mentally intimidated, not because of the colour of their skin.

Yet just a few paragraphs later, the Jay report appears to backslide on its evidence-based position:

The issue of race, regardless of ethnic group, should be tackled as an absolute priority if it is known to be a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised abuse in any local community. There was little evidence of such action being taken in Rotherham in the earlier years.(11.11)

This backsliding (which actually dominates the executive summary to chapter 11) opens the door to those, such as Ben Cobley and now (in practice rather than Ben’s theory) the BNP/EDL are keen to peddle their nonsense about embedded “ethnic favouritism” (the argument presumably being that if this allleged favouritism were removed from public policy, child sexual exploitation would magically cease).

This is unfortunate, since there is a perfectly coherent explanation as to why perpetators in one area may tend to be one ethnic group rather than another, and indeed why perpetators identified may come from certain ethnic groups in numbers which are disproportionate to their numbers within the overall population.  It is an explanation which allows for prosecution and protection to remain as ‘race-blind’ as it should be, while still ensuring that the local contexts for perpetration, which mean that perpetrators come disproportionately are of a single ethnicity, are still appropriately taken into account.

It’s not rocket science. When I discussed the ‘issue of ethnicity’ with a senior social worker colleague the other day, she was quite clear:  Asian men in some Northern towns may be the main perpetrators of child sexual exploitation not because of their ‘culture’, but because of the particular “infrastructure” that their working lives provides.  In simple terms – they drive taxis, or have friends who do; they work in/own kebab joints, where young people (especially those unsafe and/or unhappy at home) congregate; they work irregular hours in family businesses, in which the don’t clock on or off, and in which absences of two or three hours go unremarked.

Now of course, taxi driving and kebab shop owning can be seen as a part of an Asian ‘culture’, but it is more historically accurate to see it as a structural feature of changes in the economy, and the racial discrimination that accompanied those changes, which just happens to provide, in conjunction with the growth of mobile technology and social media over the last 15 years, the opportunity for people who happen to be of Asian ethnicity to become involved in exploitation.   As Arun Kundnani sets out (see references here) in relation to Northern mill towns [1]:

As the mills declined, entire towns were left on the scrap-heap. White and black workers were united in their unemployment. The only future now for the Asian communities lay in the local service economy. A few brothers would pool their savings and set up shop, a restaurant or a takeway. Otherwise there was minicabbing, with long hours and the risk of violence, often racially motivated. With the end of the textile industry, the largest employers were now the public services but discrimination keptmost of these jobs for Whites (2001:106)

If this analysis is taken on board [2], it becomes perfectly reasonable to construct child protection and perpetrator prosecution processes which are both ‘race blind’ and context aware.   If more Asians are prosecuted, so be it – being forced into the taxi business by employment discrimination a generation ago does not legitimise heinous actions – but it can still be accepted that there is no direct relationship between ethnicity and a desire to have sex or sell sex with underage girls (and of course this analysis leaves aside that taxi drivers may be prosecuted because they are easier to identify than people who do not go out onto the streets late at night but have the same intent).

3) Rotherham may turn out to be better than the rest

Rotherham: “the nation’s exploitation capital of England”, screamed the Guardian headline to one of the many fact and thought-free commentaries which appeared in the first days after publication of the report.

This is what the report actually says:

At the time of the Inquiry there was no standardised reporting of child sexual exploitation that would allow reliable judgements about whether child sexual exploitation was more or less prevalent in Rotherham than in other parts of the country and the very nature of the problem means that accurate reporting will continue to be a challenge. It seems likely that the existence of the Risky Business project, its ability to attract referrals directly from children and parents affected by sexual exploitation, and the attention given to child sexual exploitation at a multi-agency level over the years meant that the problem would have been more visible in Rotherham than in some other parts of the country (para 4.11)

In short, Rotherham is almost certainly no worse in terms of numbers of sexually exploited children, and probably a good deal better (although the massive under-resourcing of the council reported by Alexis Jay certainly had an impact on Rotherham.   Whether or not that will in time be evidenced is open to doubt, but there is simply no evidence – and this follows from the analysis above – that Rotherham has a unique toxic mix of people and circumstance which makes it more prone to a sex exploitation epidemic than anywhere else in the country.

The issue of “standardised reporting” is an important one. When I discussed this point in the report with social workers who had not read the report last week, they immediately stressed a point made elsewhere in the report (para 13.13) – the tendency for actual child sexual exploitation to be hidden by figures and reports relating to guns and gangs; that is, just as in Rotherham until fairly recently, there are still lots of areas in the country – including London – where children being raped is seen as either incidental to ‘more serious’ crime patterns, or remains simply not known.

In general, right across the country, there are senior council officers and police commanders in a state somewhere between panic at being found out and continuing denial.  It waits to be seen what happens next in relation to a possible public inquiry, but I think it’s better to prepare for more and bigger shocks.

4) The perfect storm

But shock at new revelations will not be enough.  As other horrors are exposed, we need to understand better why there has been this apparent nationwide explosion in abuse and exploitation.

The Jay report gets halfway there.  It acknowledges, as best it can in the context of limited data, that the actual incidence of child sexual exploitation is likely to be higher in the 200os and 2010s than it was in the 1990s, when it was largely still wrongly referred to as child prostitution, but it makes no effort to establish why, because the focus of the report is instead on why the authorities failed to respond to the information they were getting from Risky Business and others.

The reason for the upsurge, though, is not that hard to find.  Across the country new online pornography and mobile technologies, and arguably also imported rap discourses, have created a toxic mix of deeply misogynist attitudes, whereby girls (of any ethnicity) are regarded without due humanity, and new opportunities and tools to engage in sordid sexual (and increasingly financial) gratification.  A vital aspect of this toxic mix is the stripping away from young girls of their self-esteem, such that they become compliant in their own abuse – witness the details in the report of how abused girls cling to the notion that they are in a loving relationship.

This isn’t just happening in adult-child exploitation situations; perhaps even more alarming is the normalisation of sexual violence and exploitation between children, where sexual degradation of 13 and 14 year olds through repeated sex acts has become a normalised part of growing up.

If we are to move on from Rotherham, we need to accept that, while the council and police institutions may have failed, they (and lots of others around the country) have partly failed because they were hit by this perfect storm of ‘modernity’, of the type Giddens (1991) describes so presciently, in which whole tranches of the population find themselves, through the collapse of  time and space, utterly ‘disembedded’, prey to ‘ontological insecurities’ of the type my and previous generations never were, and then ‘re-embedded’ in weirdly perverted social norms.  Of course, it is those who are materially powerless – poor families in Rotherham spring to mind – who suffer most from in these reformed social relations.

5) Moving on from Rotherham

That’s enough for today.  In parts 2 and 3, I’ll explore how we, a society as a whole but led (I suggest) by a re-energised,  re-focused, even re-professionalised social work profession, might start to tackle some of the social ‘disembedding’ that has led (in part at least) to what we now see in Rotherham.  That involves putting the social back in social work (via Amartya Sen).

In setting out this agenda, Ill keep coming back to the Jay report, looking in particular at the sections on management failure and loss of professional autonomy (not least Barnardo’s part in that), and at the mistakes assumptions Jay makes about what she sees as two ends of the spectrum – the “community development model” she wrongly ascribes to Risky Business, and the “child protection model” which she acribes, without due critique, to Rotherham’s social workers.

There’ll also be a section on Jay’s wrong-headed dismissal as irrelevant the fact that CSE cases made up just 2-3% of all children’s social care cases.



[1]Rotherham is not of course a mill town (though it has had some textile industry), but some of the same processes have taken place, and this is an analysis of the wider position in the North of England.

[2] And for those who refuse/are unable to grasp the concept, it may be worth asking why it always seems to be bankers, and almost never postmen, who commit bank fraud.








A quick question on Labour’s National Policy Forum

July 24, 2014 1 comment

I’ve been quite busy in recent months so haven’t paid as much attention to arcane detail as I should, but I have one simple question about the current Labour National Policy Forum membership: how long does it go on?

The most recent Labour party rule book (2014*) seems unequivocal:

Elections to all divisions of the NPF shall be conducted to guidelines laid down by the NEC. The term of office shall be for two years.  (Clause III, D, iv)

So why, if members were elected in 2012, isn’t there an election in 2014.  A member of the NEC – the body responsible for the NPF elections – seemed unconcerned when I asked when the elections will take place, replying:

Next year I think – detailed timetable hasn’t been discussed yet .

and then

An exemption was agreed 4 current term on basis of changed procedures -would have to look out my notes re: when agreement reached.

That’s fair enough in terms of not knowing the detail off-hand – NEC members can’t be expected to remember everything –  but it’s a worrying reply even so, because I’m just not sure that the NEC has the power to agree such an exemption to the rule book.

Conference remains the overall authority on party rules, including rules on how the NEC conducts itself, to the extent that even where the NEC has the initial power to alter conference arrangements for practical purposes, it must seek ratification from that conference of the changed arrangements (Clause IV, 2).

This may all seem very petty**, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the idea of an executive which appears to consider/assumes its own authority to be greater than that of the body that gives it the authority it does possess.  There lies badness.

But perhaps, as I’ve said, I’ve simply missed something.



* I link here to the 2013 rule book on Labourlist, as the 2014 post-Collins Review rule book (April 2014) is passworded on the Labour party site, but the wording and clause numbering are the same (though a different page number).

** Except inasmuch as I’d actually bothered to get nominated by my own CLP in January, to go forward for what I thought would be an election this summer, although my role as agent meant I didn’t have time to go around getting other nominations.







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