The NSPCC - a danger to society
Jan 29, 2009
Bishop Hill in Children, Civil liberties, Home education

The Hitchens piece posted just before this one highlights the role of the NSPCC in supporting the government's attack on the right to home educate. (In passing I should mention that the NSPCC gets about £14m a year from government, making it clearly a fake charity. Their directors also appear to be overpaid).

The organisation's head of policy, one Diana Sutton, is quoted as saying

We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.

I don't think there can be any doubt where they think the balance lies. In the realm of home education the NSPCC's aims cannot be met without crushing a fundamental civil liberty -- that of being left alone to bring children up how one wishes. They cannot become involved with this kind of decision without becoming overtly political and becoming a threat to our freedoms. In fact, the aims of the NSPCC are probably wholly incompatible with civil liberties. Let me explain.

Sean Gabb wrote an interesting article about the perils of trying to prevent crime - what he calls "prior restraint" some years ago. The particular case that he highlighted was that of drink driving, and how efforts to prevent it had undermined the liberal traditions of this country: suddenly people who had previously been able to go about their business unmolested were subject to random searches  - breath tests - without even the excuse of probable cause. Overwhelmingly breath tests are negative - 87%  according to Gabb, a fact that demonstrates clearly the indiscriminate nature of the searches. Looking back it's hard not to see the criminalisation of drink driving as the start of the decline of British liberties although gun owners might point to the Firearms Act of 1902.

Looking around us, it's easy to see a general pattern. Crime prevention has an unpleasant tendency to lead to authoritarianism. We can see it in the database state, in data snooping and in a myriad of other facets of life in modern Britain. This is a difficult concept for people to grasp, but if there is to be a general campaign for civil liberties in the UK then it is a question that is going to have to be addressed. Liberarians of the right will tend to have an instinctive grasp of these issues, but those on the left are going to find it much harder to reconcile themselves to the idea that the costs of prior restraint may in fact be outweighing the benefits. Will will have to wait and see whether they can do it.

Meanwhile, the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has to ask itself how it can acheive its aims without destroying any more civil liberties. As I've hinted above, I'm not entirely sure that there is very much they can do. They can help children whose parents are abusive - by providing helplines and rehabilitating children who have been removed from their parents and so on. But this is not prevention - rather it is dealing with children who are already victims of cruelty. Once the NSPCC starts getting involved with actual prevention then they cross the line into becoming Big Brother, or at least of encouraging facilitating the creation of a Big Brother state. At this point they start to become a danger to a liberal society.

I'm not sure that anyone at the NSPCC actually understands this. Until they make it clear that they do, and that their role is nothing to do with prevention, I think you should send your money elsewhere.

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