Since the watershed moment of Operation Yewtree’s investigation into claims made against Jimmy Savile and other media personalities, there has been increasing disclosure of historical child sex abuse at a myriad of organisations, including schools. Three years on, as the Goddard Inquiry begins an unprecedented investigation into these murky waters, the issue of ensuring justice with fewer and fewer resources has never been more pertinent.
The latest statistics from the NSPCC highlight that in 2012/13 (the year that Yewtree was launched), the financial burden of child sexual abuse on the UK economy was £3.2billion. This included not just social healthcare but also the bill for civil compensation. Looking to the years ahead, an additional cost must be added to that for the work of the Inquiry.
The Inquiry’s remit is vast. The initial investigations, announced at the end of November, along with the large number of research projects that will guide future investigations, are evidence that the Inquiry intends to look at all areas of society, including education. Such a comprehensive inquiry brings with it a significant monetary and human cost both to Central Government and to all those organisations who will be actively involved.
Schools will be all too aware of the important role they play in this sensitive arena, and the vital impact their co-operation will provide for those affected by historical abuse. Local authorities will rightly support the Inquiry but there will be an inevitable impact on their limited resources.
£17.9million of the public purse has been put aside for the Inquiry for 2015/16, with future expenditure plans to be revealed later. By comparison a similar inquiry in Australia has cost £140million to date and has not yet finished its work. This hints at the level of costs that will be incurred by the time the Inquiry concludes its work, currently planned to be by December 2020.
Is the education system prepared for the part it will play? Those residential schools named in the first investigations will already or soon be receiving detailed requests for documentation. Responses to such requests will be required in relatively short periods of time. They will be extensively covering current and past safeguarding policies and procedures; details of staff recruitment and training; information about previous disclosures of abuse and responses to the same. Stating that documents cannot be found won’t be acceptable. Oral evidence will also be required from current and past employees. Education departments within local authorities should be preparing for similar participation now. Some will need to be core participants and the Inquiry has already indicated it will limit the occasions where it agrees to pay the legal costs of core participants.
This is all-important work to ensure the best possible child protection now and in the future, and to provide an opportunity for those who have been abused to be heard. But it does so at a significant cost to already limited resources.
In addition, the Inquiry's Accountability and Reparations investigation has the potential for significant change to the civil compensation system. As the Irish Redress Board draws to a conclusion and redress is recommended in Australia and will be recommended in Northern Ireland, it seems most likely something similar will be recommended in England & Wales. If that does occur then it is not clear whether such payments would be covered by insurance – additional strain on limited resources.
It will be an interesting few years as the Inquiry progresses and ultimately if it achieves its core aim of protecting children then that will be a benefit for all of society. But it cannot do that without much human pain for the survivors and costs being incurred in the process.
Paula Jefferson is partner at insurance law specialist BLM.