It looks like summer ended last Saturday and it was certainly a day that everyone seemed to be enjoying at the Hawkinge Fun Day. The event was well supported by everyone in the community and was a great showcase for local groups from the Allotment Society to the Scouts and Guides. It is also a good reminder of how much work, of such great benefit to so many people, is done throughout the year by volunteers. Our communities would not be what they are without this work, but as they say, every silver lining has a cloud.
I have written before about how red tape and health and safety regulations are a cause of massive frustration to people trying to organise community events. Instead of the approach of Government being one that encourages people to support groups and organise days like the Hawkinge Fun Day, current legislation seems to be making it as hard as possible.
Safety is of course important, but regulations should be proportionate to the risks. This is my big concern with the plans announced by the Government to set up a new ‘Independent Safeguard Authority’ which could force millions of parents to undergo checks before they could give lifts to the children of friends, or say to help with the driving for a local sports team or youth group. The Government has said that this may only apply to people who do this frequently, but this could even include people who give lifts once or twice a month. Parents who fail to comply with these checks could receive a fine of £5,000 and a criminal record. Each check would also cost £64 to complete. This means that the starting position of the authority is that all adults are a potential risk to children unless it can prove otherwise. This decision has not only been criticised by politicians, but also many charities that campaign on behalf of children.
As the father of two small children I know that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them and keep them from harm. But I also know that I am prepared to trust my judgement of the character of the people who help to care for and support them, and I don’t require every adult they come into contact with to have been checked out by a super government agency beforehand.
There is a real danger that we create a society where children are taught to fear adults and adults are put off from working with children feeling that people will always be asking questions and challenging their motives. We know that many youth groups, including the Scouts and Guides have a real shortage of adult volunteers. In trying to safeguard children, the Government is at risk of endangering childhood.