David Lammy, the Tottenham MP, spoke yesterday in an interview on LBC about his views on smacking.
Among other things, he said
“There are groups of people in this country who are confused by the law and we need to listen to those people,” he told the Guardian. “There is a divide between professionals and parents who feel quite differently.”
This issue has been covered at length in the media and it relates to issues he wrote about in the Autumn in his post-riot book ‘Out of the Ashes’. He said that the Children Act 2004 ‘went too far’ in changing the legislation regarding the defence of reasonable punishment from parents who would no longer ‘be masters’ in their own homes.The Commons library has paper which explains this removal of
‘the defence of reasonable punishment to any assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm under the Offences against Children Act 1861 or a charge of cruelty under the Children and Young People’s Act 1933.. therefore any injury sustained by a child which is serious enough to to warrant a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm cannot be considered to be as a result of reasonable punishment.. for any injury to a child caused by a parent or person acting in loco parentis which amounts to more than a temporary reddening of the skin, where the injury is more the transient and trifling, the defence of reasonable punishment is not available’
It’s useful to go back to the law to consider Lammy’s proposal that the 2004 law should be repealed as it is having a damaging effect on parenting in inner city, working class parents.
He says in his book
‘Most parents do not want to smack their children. Many view it as a last resort and even a sign of failure. But following the new law, many of these same people believe their authority has been shot and that they are no longer sovereign in their own homes’.
He also explains that the ‘reddening of the skin’ issue is more of a dilemma and perhaps less relevant for children who are not white.
I think he’s wrong.
This post on It’s Mother’s Work explains much better than I can, why smacking is not acceptable and I urge everyone interested in this debate to read it.
My concerns above the issues raised in the post about the absolute nature of the wrongness of physically assaulting anyone – regardless of age – and let’s look beyond the ‘redness of skin’ to the actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm part. That isn’t a smack on the fingers to prevent a child from touching something that is hot. That isn’t an impulsive act of a parent trying to remove their child from danger. They are an intent to cause ‘some bodily harm’. It is illegal for adults to do this to other adults so I maintain the law should protect children.
However my other concern with Lammy is that he talks about a ‘fear of social services’ in his constituency and that for me is his mistake. As an local MP, he could do a lot more to allay and explain the law to his constituents and help explain that social workers won’t be knocking on the door to take away any child who is smacked within these guidelines.
As a politician he has a right to an opinion, as we all do. I do worry that he is harbouring and nurturing a distrust of social workers in his community by exacerbating the fears of families that their children will be removed if they don’t stick within what I think are already too lenient boundaries. Rather tellingly, Lammy mentions in his book that
‘I remember my own mother panicking after what turned out to be a routine visit from social services shortly after my father left. Worried that “social services” could only mean one thing, she sought a reassurance from her MP that she wouldn’t lose her children. Such fears have only grown since 2004.’
And therein lies the rub. Lammy’s role should be to reassure parents who remain within the law that they have nothing to fear from ‘social services’ visits. He should reassure his constituents that a visit from social services to check is a good thing to ensure a child is being cared for and inform and educate the local community about the boundaries between discipline and abuse.
Going back to his first comment, his priority should be about dispelling the confusion rather than increasing it.