Recession Could Lead to a Surge in Child Abuse – UK Bar Council Chairman Warns

by Gopalan on Dec 10 2008 2:32 PM

Recession could lead to a surge in child abuse, the new chairman of the UK Bar Council has warned.

Desmond Browne QC, who will take up his post next month, feels that the current  economic downturn may cause increased tension at home which, in turn, could result in more youngsters being harmed.

He also noted that soaring fees of family courts are deterring local authorities from intervening to protect 'at-risk' children.

In a stark warning, coming just weeks after the Baby P scandal, he suggested that the  'fabric of society' will break down and youngsters will be at higher risk than ever.

He said: 'The family court judges at the senior level have for some time said that family life on the front line presents greater risk to children than ever before.

'That the fabric of society in urban areas and deprivation is breaking down to an extent that was inconceivable a decade or two decades ago.'

He said as families struggle with 'profound poverty and insufficient money', tension will come that will risk the safety of children.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he added:  'There is a natural correlation between economic stringency and unemployment and figures in the past have shown a clear link between unemployment and rising crime rates.'

In his inaugural address to the Council Monday, he said: 'It is at times like these, when the fabric of our society is under such severe financial pressure that more than ever the services of publicly funded criminal and family practitioners are required. 

 'Social pressures put the livelihoods, the homes and the family lives of the economically vulnerable directly on the line, and they are entitled to look to our profession as the first line of defence.'

He warned that the sharp increase in court fees earlier this year has seen costs of some child care cases rise from £150 to nearly £5,000.

Browne suggested that it is deterring many cash strapped councils from intervening to protect a child at risk from abuse.

'If the trend has just recently reversed, it is desperately sad that it should have taken a case like Baby P to cause that,' he added.

Responding to his comments, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said:  'Local authorities were this year given £40 million to cover the cost of these fee increases.

'The court fee itself is a small proportion of the cost of bringing proceedings.

'Children's services have an obligation in law to protect children. It would be unlawful for them to avoid taking court proceedings for financial reasons.

'For these reasons we do not accept that the new fees should have any impact on Local Authorities fulfilling their duty to protect children at risk.'