Saturday, September 02, 2006

The long arm of the state

Further to my (somewhat inebriated) post on Blair’s proposal to identify “problem children” before they are born, there is an article by Lee Glendinning in Friday’s Guardian. According to this Blair has put forward plans “for state intervention” to prevent babies born into “high risk families” becoming “problem teenagers”. Blair said: “If you’ve got someone who is a teenage mum, not married, not in a stable relationship…here is the support we are prepared to offer you, but we do need to keep a careful watch on you and how your situation is developing because all indicators are that your type of situation can lead to problems in the future…”. Young parents who are “vulnerable” are apparently to be offered a compulsory 12-week programme to improve their skills in bringing up children; if they refuse there could be “sanctions” (It's an "offer you can't refuse"). Blair does not seem to understand the difference between “offering help” and coercion. That a person can face “sanctions” not because they have done something, but because the “indicators” - the "social profile" - shows that they (or, rather, their children) might do something in the future, strikes me as absolutely outrageous and I am surprised there appears to have been no public outcry (Apparently Blair is to give a speech on this next Tuesday. We will see what happens then). Apart from the question of principle involved (that someone should only be punished by the state when they have broken the law) there are pragmatic considerations. What on earth makes anyone think that state-enforced training in child-rearing will actually improve anything? What are the likely reactions of the young women coerced into taking part in this training by fear of suffering “sanctions”? Which is more likely: effusive gratitude or sullen resentment? Blair thinks you can coerce someone to do something and they will be grateful for the help you have “offered”. What sanctions are we talking about anyway? Loss of benefit? Yeah, that’s sure to help. Or what? I assume he is not contemplating custodial sentences; but with Blair one never knows. The authoritarian instinct of this government is well-attested: from ASBO’s, to ID cards, the use of the Terrorism Act to detain and strip-search peaceful protestors, the Brian Haw affair, and so on. This is another to add to the list. Blair trained as a lawyer: he seems to have absolutely no comprehension of the meaning of individual rights.


Blogger skipper said...

Piece in Observer today points out that some £70billion is paid out as a result of problem families- the proposal suggested was that 'mentors' help such families-presumably in thrall to drugs, crime violence etc- to avoid the pitfalls of such life and provide escape routes for children involved. That doesn't sound so coercive and appears to have some logic to it as well. I wouldn't condemn the scheme in advance- lets see what he has to say.

10:17 pm  
Blogger politaholic said...

OK, Skipper, fair enough, let's see what he has to say. But what I am objecting to is the "pre-emptive" and "coercive" (i.e. with penalties attached) nature of what has been muted so far. Of course, if someone is convicted e.g. of a drugs-related offence it might be reasonable for the court to require attendance on some "social skills" or "parenting skills" course (in addition to whatever other sentence is imposed). I am objecting to requiring this of people who merely fit a "social profile". Perhaps when Blair speaks on this tomorrow he will not go so far: but that was my reading of the Guardian article.

8:15 am  

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