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The hopes of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in England and Wales have been “dashed” by the government’s “weak” response to the recommendations made following a major inquiry into child sex abuse, according to the inquiry’s chairwoman.
Professor Alexis Jay, who chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said ministers had failed to understand the need for action.
The inquiry was set up in 2015 on the orders of then Prime Minister David Cameron and, after taking evidence from 7,000 people over seven years, it made 107 recommendations in its report, which was published in October last year.
The government published its official response last week but, in a letter to The Times of London, Jay and the other members of the IICSA panel described it as “inadequate” and said, “the scourge of child sexual abuse will continue to increase unabated.”
The inquiry cost more than £186 million and the delivery of its report was expected to be an era-changing event, but it was overshadowed by political events with the beleaguered Prime Minister Liz Truss resigning a few hours after the report was published.
Fears ‘Other Political Priorities’ Will Take Precedence
Rishi Sunak eventually succeeded Truss but he has prioritised the economy and the cost-of-living crisis and Jay said she felt action may be put off indefinitely, “for the sake of other political priorities.”
The inquiry was originally set up in the wake of revelations about the broadcaster Sir Jimmy Savile but it was widened to include sexual abuse in children’s homes, churches and other religious organisations, and allegations of sexual abuse by politicians, including former MPs Cyril Smith and Greville Janner.
The IICSA report’s main recommendations were:
- That a Child Protection Authority for England should be set up, and a separate one for Wales, which would inspect children’s homes and other facilities.
- That the British government create a Cabinet-level minister for children.
- That a single database of paedophiles should be created in England and Wales.
- That the government should ban all “pain compliance techniques” for detained children.
- That all staff working in care roles in children’s homes should be registered and could be struck off if found guilty of misconduct by an independent body.
- That official records of child sexual abuse allegations should be retained for 75 years.
- That a system of “mandatory reporting” be introduced.
In their letter the IICSA panel wrote, “By its response, the government seems to have failed to understand the recommendations either in substance or significance.”
“Some are deemed to be ‘accepted’ when, in reality, they clearly are not, while others are conditional on yet more research, review or consultation. To none is a timeline attached or a committed action plan. We fear that, for the sake of other political priorities, action will be deferred indefinitely,” it added.
The letter went on, “While the government is free to reject or partially accept the recommendations of a statutory public inquiry, what it ought not be free to do is to purport to accept them through what is little more than a very weak and, at times, apparently disingenuous official response.”
“As a result, the hopes and expectations of victims and survivors will be dashed yet again, and the scourge of child sexual abuse will continue to increase unabated,” it added.
The report was published on Oct. 20, 2022 and the night before Suella Braverman had resigned as home secretary—to be replaced by Grant Shapps—after sending an official document from her personal email.
Shapps promised at the time the government would respond in full within six months, and added, “I am incredibly grateful to the thousands of victims and survivors who have bravely come forward to share their experiences with the inquiry, their bravery will not be forgotten.”
Five days later, following Truss’s resignation, her successor Sunak reappointed Braverman as home secretary.
Braverman: Government Has Risen to Challenge
Braverman said last week the government had “risen to the inquiry’s challenge” in calling for “fundamental change” in tackling child sexual abuse.
She told the House of Commons: “We are accepting the need to act on 19 out of the inquiry’s 20 final recommendations. This includes driving work across government to improve the victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, the criminal injuries compensation scheme, workforce regulation, access to records, consistent and compatible data and communications on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse.”
But Braverman said change would take time and she said victims, survivors and charities would be consulted on a compensation scheme, the principle of which the government has accepted.
The government has already ruled out one of the key recommendation’s of the report—a Cabinet-level minister for children—saying Education Secretary Gillian Keegan already “provides a voice at Cabinet for the safeguarding and protection of children and will continue to make sure their voices are consistently heard at Cabinet level.”
The government’s stock response to many of the recommendations was that they would be dealt with as part of the Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy (pdf), a white paper on reform of the children’s social care system which was published in February.
PA Media contributed to this report.