Welsh Government urged to drop smacking ban as majority again backs current law
- New Freedom of Information requests confirm that parents will be criminalised if smacking is banned
- Government backed survey finds over six in 10 support current law
- Just three in 10 back smacking ban
- 86 per cent think changing the law will not change attitudes
The Welsh Government has been urged to drop its plans to ban smacking as a clear majority support the current law in a Government parenting consultation, and new evidence emerges that changing the law will lead to ordinary parents being criminalised.
The call comes in a letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford following the publication today, by the Government of draft legislation to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement.
The letter highlights four new Freedom of Information (FoI) requests from Scottish NHS trusts looking at the impact of a similar ban in Scotland.
Asked what the main disadvantages of a ban would be, Orkney NHS Trust cited a:
“Risk of prosecution (likely to include a risk of increased use of custody in current Scottish criminal legal system) being disproportionate in its outcome to the objective level of harm inflicted in some cases.”
It also said there was a:
“Risk of enforcement action being used disproportionately among sectors of society already disadvantaged by poverty and limited education” and a “Risk of undermining confidence of parents who have used physical chastisement, exaggerating sense of failure”.
Dumfries & Galloway NHS confirmed that mild physical discipline would be considered abuse after a change in the law:
“Staff would be managed in the same way as any other criminal investigation as per NHS Disciplinary Policy”.
Lowri Turner, a Spokesmum for the Be Reasonable campaign, commented: “These Freedom of Information requests, although from Scotland, are further proof that if the law is changed ordinary parents including doctors and nurses will be treated like abusers and criminals – something supporters of the Bill have consistently tried to deny.”
NHS Tayside went further accepting that hundreds of parents could be investigated if the law is changed. Asked about the impact on staff numbers they said:
“This request highlights that in the first five years of introducing a ban in New Zealand, which has a similar legal system, police investigated nearly 600 allegations. This would suggest that if there were to be similar numbers of allegations across the whole of Scotland, then each Health Board would expect to receive approximately 10 allegations a year…”
Tayside felt this could be accommodated within their existing resources, but NHS Forth Valley, said they would “consider the potential need” for additional staff and resources “if the Bill becomes law”.
The FoIs confirm the content of documents from Public Health Wales and the Cwm Taf University Health Board, which made clear that NHS workers suspected of smacking faced suspension, investigation and possible criminal sanctions.
Asked how changing the law would affect their organisation, Cwm Taf University Health Board said:
“It is already a statutory duty to report child protection concerns to the Local Authority and if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed, smacking will become one of those concerns…
“…Complaint about staff member: this would be dealt with in the same way as any other complaint of abuse/neglect made against a staff member using the Safeguarding Board policies and procedures. Support during any investigation and/or suspension is provided by the individuals line manager, staff side representative and occupational health.”
While Public Health Wales added:
“In relation to the possible introduction of a smacking ban in Wales following the consultation, any allegations of abuse of any staff in Public Health Wales will be dealt with by following the All Wales Child Protection Procedures (2008) and the All Wales Procedure for NHS Staff to raise Concerns…”
“…Staff receive safeguarding training to a level and at a frequency appropriate to their role and any changes to legislation would be included and discussed in that training however staff are aware of their duty to report suspected abuse of a child to the police or social services and of how to get support from within the organisation if they need it in order to do so.”
Lowri continued, “The claim made by the Government and those pushing for a ban that parents won’t be criminalised is simply not true. Regardless of whether you are in Wales or Scotland the effects of changing the law are clear. Loving parents who smack could be subject to police investigation and social services intervention, and even suspension or dismissal from their jobs, plunging them and their children into poverty and turmoil.”
The latest FoIs come in the wake of the Welsh Government’s official Talk Parenting exercise, which found considerable opposition to a smacking ban, with parents saying the current law is clear and understood.
1,298 people completed responses to the #TalkParenting online engagement survey, 69 per cent of whom were parents or carers. Asked to choose from a set of statements, 36 per cent selected ‘I’m comfortable with the idea of smacking a child and will do it when I think it’s necessary’ whilst 27 per cent said, ‘I don’t like the idea of smacking a child, but I will do it if nothing else works’ – a combined total of over six in 10 (63 per cent).
The same number (63 per cent) agreed that the law should allow parents to smack their children whilst just three in 10 (30 per cent) disagreed. When asked if there should be a complete ban on parents smacking their children 30 per cent agreed and nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) disagreed.
The Government-backed survey also found that 86 per cent of respondents said they did not think a change in the law would change their attitudes towards smacking whilst just one in 12 (eight per cent) said it would. ‘Changing attitudes’ is one of the primary justifications offered by supporters of the smacking ban. But a poll in New Zealand, nine years after politicians passed a ban, found that 65 per cent said: “Regardless of the anti-smacking law, I would smack my child to correct their behavior, if I thought it was reasonable to do so”. Only 23 per cent thought: “It should be a criminal offence for a parent to give their child a smack that is reasonable and for the purposes of correction.”
Lowri concluded: “The Welsh Government has been more honest than many anti-smacking activists. They admit research evidence does not show that light, infrequent smacking – the kind protected by the reasonable chastisement defence – is harmful. They also admit that laws against smacking in other countries don’t compare with what is being proposed in Wales. Meanwhile official documents show that parents who are suspected of smacking their child, regardless of the context, will be treated no differently to a child abuser.
“Worryingly the Government has yet to admit the scale of public opposition. The figures from this Government consultation with parents, along with polls from ComRes and others, prove what we have always said: the proposed ban is deeply unpopular, unnecessary and will lead to struggling, hard working parents being treated like criminals. I hope Ministers will drop these unnecessary measures and instead focus on how they can help truly at risk children, and those families who are begging for help.”
Notes to Editors:
– The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots campaign of parents and supportive groups with a single goal: to discourage the Welsh Government from pursuing its pledge to outlaw reasonable chastisement of children by their parents.
– In January 2015, former Children’s Minister Leighton Andrews told the Welsh Assembly:
“The effect of amendments 46 to 67 [to repeal the reasonable chastisement defence] is not only to criminalise smacking, but also any other touching of a child in Wales by a parent for the purpose of administering discipline. The offence of a battery is committed where a person intentionally or recklessly inflicts unlawful violence on another. Any touching of another person, however slight, may amount to a battery. For example, a parent who forcibly lifts a misbehaving child would be guilty of battery.”
Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, 22 January 2015