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The Nanny State Gets Nasty

Britain is experiencing the literal embodiment of the nanny state — the government telling you who can watch the kids.

by
Mike McNally

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October 9, 2009 - 12:00 am
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In Britain, parents face prosecution for looking after their friends’ children without government approval.

If you’re a parent who has to leave your child with someone while you go to work, you’d probably think that a friend with a child of the same age would be an ideal choice — and if that friend happened to be a police officer, it would certainly be no bad thing. More generally, you might take the view that you’re better qualified than government officials to take decisions about how to best raise your children. However, if you hold such views in Gordon Brown’s Britain, you’re likely to find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Fellow police detectives and close friends Leanne Shepherd and Lucy Jarrett thought they had a pretty handy arrangement. For two-and-a-half years, they took it in turns to look after each other’s children whenever one of them was on duty. Now education watchdogs have ordered the pair to end the arrangement — and threatened them with prosecution — because neither is registered with the government as a qualified childminder. They’ve even been warned that their homes will be placed under surveillance to make sure that no illicit caring goes on.

It’s the literal embodiment of the nanny state — the government interjecting itself into private childcare arrangements between friends. And this is not an isolated case of some bureaucrat being a little overzealous in applying the rules; it’s par for the course under Labour’s coercive and inquisitorial regime, whose officials feel compelled to interfere in and regulate every aspect of citizens’ private lives.

The clampdown on Shepherd and Jarrett comes just a couple of weeks after the government announced that parents who ferry children to sporting activities and other after-school events must submit to official vetting, on pain of an $8,000 fine and a criminal record. The scheme will eventually cover more than 11 million people and will create the largest database of its kind in the world — which, given the government’s appalling record of losing and misusing the mass of personal information it collects, is in itself cause for concern.

Although inspired primarily by crude authoritarianism, such initiatives are also the products of Britain’s increasingly risk-averse culture. Officials prefer to pass draconian legislation in an attempt to remove even the slightest possibility that someone might come to harm or commit an offense, rather than dealing with problems as and when they occur or catching and prosecuting offenders. (There are, for example, proposals to curb drunken violence by raising the price of alcohol and closing pubs — thus punishing the innocent along with the guilty — rather than by arresting the culprits and imposing sentences on them).

The government has been assisted in its endeavors by a media which knows that lurid stories of kidnaps, murders, and children in danger sell newspapers and boost viewing figures. Together they’ve created an increasingly paranoid society, in which parents and children are encouraged to believe that danger lurks around every corner and that every adult is a would-be abuser just waiting for an opportunity to strike. Paralyzed with indecision and fear, parents turn to unqualified officials and unaccountable, state-appointed “experts” to tell them what to do.

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