The Government’s response to a long-running inquiry into child sex abuse has been branded “weak” and “apparently disingenuous” – with ministers accused of failing to understand the need for action.
Professor Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said victims and survivors’ hopes will be “dashed yet again” and the “scourge of child sexual abuse will continue to increase unabated”.
Prof Jay’s comments, in a letter to The Times newspaper, come a week after the Government published its official response to the inquiry’s 20 recommendations.
In a letter to the editor, Prof Jay and panel members told of “deep concern at the Government’s inadequate response” to their recommendations and predict action may be deferred indefinitely “for the sake of other political priorities”.
The £186.6 million inquiry, set up in 2015, looked at 15 areas scrutinising institutional responses to child sexual abuse – including investigations into abuse in Westminster and the church.
More than 7,000 victims took part.
The final IICSA report was published in October.
In their letter, published on Tuesday, the panel wrote: “By its response, the Government seems to have failed to understand the recommendations either in substance or significance.
“Some are deemed to be ‘accepted’ when, in reality, they clearly are not, while others are conditional on yet more research, review or consultation. To none is a timeline attached or a committed action plan. We fear that, for the sake of other political priorities, action will be deferred indefinitely.
“While the Government is free to reject or partially accept the recommendations of a statutory public inquiry, what it ought not be free to do is to purport to accept them through what is little more than a very weak and, at times, apparently disingenuous official response.
“As a result, the hopes and expectations of victims and survivors will be dashed yet again, and the scourge of child sexual abuse will continue to increase unabated.”
In the Commons last week, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the Government had “risen to the inquiry’s challenge” in calling for “fundamental change” in tackling child sexual abuse.
She said: “We are accepting the need to act on 19 out of the inquiry’s 20 final recommendations.
“This includes driving work across Government to improve the victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, the criminal injuries compensation scheme, workforce regulation, access to records, consistent and compatible data and communications on the scale and nature of child sexual abuse.”
Ms Braverman said the introduction of a national compensation scheme for victims of child sexual abuse was a “landmark commitment” but also said change will take time.
The Government said victims, survivors and charities will be consulted on a number of areas of the scheme, including on who it should support and how non-state institutions should be involved.
But ministers ruled out calls for a minister for children in the Cabinet, saying the Education Secretary already “provides a voice at Cabinet for the safeguarding and protection of children and will continue to make sure their voices are consistently heard at Cabinet level”.
The Government also said that while it accepts the need for a stronger safeguarding system, it believes the functions of a recommended child protection authority are already covered by other bodies.