Report on the Fostering Meeting at the House of Commons on 29th January 2019 and the presentation notes and guidance on the proposed White Paper.
We started as an unofficial group meeting: the union boss Jason Moyer Lee and John Hendy Q.C. who did the legal work on the bill with Camila Ibbetson (a solicitor and trainee Barrister). Here the smaller team listened to the objectives and progress the union had made on the bill and the proposed agenda for the second meeting. We asked questions in a more open environment about what they really hoped to achieve and how much support they had for a bill in the House recognising the whole timetable of Brexit, not just for now but for the next two years. J.M.L. claims that the fostering side of the union now accounts for 50% of their membership with an annual take up of over 700 new members a year.
Our second meeting was moved to Room 14 due to ministerial meetings taking place in the normal rooms for Brexit. Room 14 is the room used by the Conservatives 1922 committee on a Tuesday and Labours policy group on a Thursday. As our chair, observed we were honoured as many famous bottoms had sat there before us. (I have changed his words so as not to offend).
The initial thrust of the meeting and the reason for the bill is the complete lack of rights available to Foster Carers including in many cases Foster Carers not being allowed access to Industrial Tribunals. John Hendy Q.C. is of the view that F.C. should be classified as Limb b workers with full rights but responsible for their own tax and N.I. payments. He felt knowing what cases, both before the courts and those that were and about to go to court, that Carers rights and status would be changed before the end of 2019. He felt that some Judges after recent cases of other groups of self-employed people who had won their status felt the mood within the senior legal profession was to deliver employment status to people who only worked for one employer and who had a professional status within their field. Currently carers have
- No legal status
- No independent legal body representing them
- No central register proving their abilities and skills
- No independent tribunal looking after them that has legal powers
- No payment for the second carer when it was required that two carers were needed due to the complex nature of the care offered or the number of children with higher needs in placement.
Unlike doctors, lawyers, social workers, pharmacists, doctors or any of the other groups his chamber looks after.
John Hendy is proposing that a short bill is used followed by secondary legislation to facilitate the full bill’s progress using his primary act to set out the standards and act as a guide for the drafters of the final legislation to follow with support from the Secretary of State, who has final Ministerial responsibility.
Throughout the UK it is believed that there are some 55,000 carers looking after approximately 65,000 children. This is one of the drivers for the bill as a stable workforce with quality training should deliver stability for the children in care. Carers must have the ability to stand up for children without worrying about the reaction of social workers or their line managers. Thus, Foster Carers must also have the same whistle blower rights as other council employees.
Currently whilst Carers are tied by contract to one provider be that County Council or I.F.A. they have no rights concerning discrimination, fair pay, representation or paid sick leave.
One solution offered and proposed in the bill is for a central register to be created and this was supported by the MPs present, the Union and the representative of Fostering Network.
Examples of how long it takes to transfer carers to a new Council or I.F.A. when people move regions added weight to the argument for the need to create such a register, out of the control of local authorities. It was argued that social workers are able to move authorities with ease and thus carers should be entitled to do the same. This would keep skilled carers available to help and support children rather than remove then from the system at a time of a national shortage of carers. The union also wish to change the system where a carer can have an issue with a social worker and find the need to go to the I.R.M. who independently can evaluate the evidence and recommend that the carer be allowed to return to fostering. Of the 80 carers referred to the I.R.M. service last year 30 won the support of the service and should have been allowed to return to work. But 47% were not taken back by the L.A. and no reason was given.
Again, the union believe that a central register would remove the L.A.s right to ignore the I.R.M. pronouncements. Indeed, they wish to strengthen the register’s rights to question the motives of the social workers and make it a criminal offence for S.W. to lie or make up evidence. It would also have the advantage of providing proof that a carer is fit to practice if they move L.A. and do not declare that they have fostered elsewhere, especially when issues or problems have previously existed.
After the main part of the meeting the union moved to discuss the setting up of a worker’s council for carers to cover all aspects of their employment with a number of independent tribunals being established. This evolved into what can best be described as a utopian left-wing view of workers’ rights culminating in a Ministry of Labour with cabinet representation.
The meeting returned to normal with questions and statement from the floor subjects covered and supported included
- Heavy criticism of Fostering Network for being too much in the pay of County Councils and thus were not seen as independent.
- Fostering Network are too interested in making money by selling “new ideas” and do not actually support carers who have issues.
- Fostering Network are to under-staffed to be of use to carers and often take too long to respond.
- Fostering Network have failed to produce any meaningful results for Foster Carers.
- The only benefit to carers of Fostering Network is the insurance policy.
- Lack of security in some L.A.s over confidentiality with both childrens and carers paper files being left on desks overnight and are thus available for people to read such as cleaners, maintenance people, shift I.T. people. Examples of this poor practice were given including naming Hampshire.
- The need for carers to start registering false complaints and unfair practices by S.W. with the union for them to store and take up if and when a pattern becomes apparent.
The way forward – the union are looking at a private members bill as one way to get the proposal started, – they are also talking to the Scottish government in September where parliament has expressed cross party support for a bill to protect Foster Carers rights and hold a central register. The thinking is that if one part of the union supports the Bill it will put pressure on the English government to follow suit, -it is proposed to add the bill to at least one party’s manifesto prior to the next election where it is felt progress can be made,- the union will collect real evidence of LA and SW misdemeanours to work with friendly press and the unions legal team to lobby the government by raising the profile of the issue and gaining public support.
My own observation and belief is that at present there are still differing views within the union as to the way forward and these need to be resolved or the bill will become too large to be workable. I also believe with the current government’s workload and the backlog of activities that are already in the pipeline that progress in England and Wales will be slow. However, the current American Union General Secretary Jason is a driven man and an astute political player who has much support within the labour party and amongst the press so it would be foolish to dismiss the idea of a Foster Carers Bill. During the meeting several MPs came and went including two conservative members and one liberal (Norman Lamb) and all seemed to have an interest.
I am not expecting another meeting in Westminister for some time but do have private meetings arranged with the Union’s political advisor and with their head of staff to keep us upto date with events. As a footnote Jason Moyer Lee has been heavily involved and successful in several high-profile cases where Limb b status was supported by the courts and has been featured in the Gradian who are helping to crowd fund these campaigns with him.