According to today’s Sunday Express, the Children’s Secretary, Ed Balls, has announced that thousands of “the worst families in Britain” are to be put into ‘sin bins’ in a bid to change their bad behaviour.
The government is to spend £400 million to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV surveillance in their own homes. They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time, and eat proper meals. Private security guards will be sent round to carry out home checks.
Around 2,000 families have already been subjected to these ‘Family Intervention Projects’, it seems. But ministers want to target 20,000 more over the next two years, with each costing between £5,000 and £20,000. Pupils and their families will have to sign behaviour contracts (‘Home School Agreements’) every year setting out parents’ duties to ensure their children behave and do their homework.
Balls wants every local authority in the country to fund them. He describes it as “pretty tough and non-negotiable support” for problem families. Other descriptions spring to mind. And – wait for it! – the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling calls the scheme “much too little much too late”.
So there you have it. Both this proto-totalitarian government and its likely successors think it’s absolutely OK in 21st century Britain to place citizens who haven’t been convicted of any crime under round-the-clock CCTV observation in their own homes. Presumably this will include the bathroom – a likely place for a wank and some furtive drug use – the children’s bedrooms, their computers, the attic, the cellar, the garage, the garden and everywhere else. As always, I wonder who will do this snooping, how will they be selected and trained, and who will supervise them?
Personal privacy and dignity no longer exist in this country. If it is permissible for the authorities to inflict this outrageous system upon ‘problem families’ (as defined by whom?), it won’t be long before they do it to everyone deemed socially unacceptable, out of the mainstream, or politically incorrect. It will swiftly escalate first to unpopular minority groups such as gypsies, gays, prostitutes, animal rights and anti-nuclear campaigners, and then to religious groups and minority political parties. Ultimately it will happen to every citizen, and Orwell’s Big Brother will have well and truly arrived.
On the television this morning Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, was glibly declaring that in this country everyone is innocent until they have been proved guilty. She can tell that to the marines. I have no love for problem families on sink estates who plague the community with drug turf wars, knife crime, and general yobbishness. But to place them or anyone else under constant CCTV monitoring in their own homes at the say-so of some government or local authority jobsworth is a negation of every principle of justice and it is to be hoped that the courts will in due course rule that such practices are illegal.
What is really frightening is that they should ever have been contemplated, let alone deemed tolerable by any responsible agency. Civil liberties apart, brute compulsion and humiliation without any attempt to convince children and their parents of the benefits of learning will only breed sullen resentment and runs counter to all sound educational theory and practice.