UK Politics

Having It Both Ways

Beatrix Campbell asks a valid question in today’s Guardian: why are Britain’s social services so loath to intervene in child abuse cases which would seem to cry out for immediate action?

Shannon Matthews’ life was horrible: she was starved, scared, doped, massively neglected and finally commodifed by her mother. Her mother put herself and a trail of hapless – or worse – men before her children.

This was a story of everyday terror, bad enough to alarm neighbours and relatives, and enough to make them call social services. It was bad enough to involve the statutory services. Five years ago, Karen Matthews was judged unable to put her children first.

Despite the historic commitments of the Children Act, the state does not take the side of children. Childcare policy and professionals have been unable to withstand the toxic alchemy of a commentariat in denial, impoverished services, disempowered professions, and the insurgencies of accused adults.

A commentariat in denial? What might that mean? Let’s go back to March of this year to find out. Here’s the same Ms Campbell writing in the same newspaper on the same case:

Karen Matthews has acted appropriately throughout: she was waiting for Shannon at home; she contacted the police as soon as she had exhausted all the obvious locations. And yet, our eye is drawn to her poverty, numbers of partners, cans of lager going into her household. Everything about Ms Matthews’ life has been up for scrutiny.

Karen Matthews has been subjected to a Today programme interrogation that appeared to position the mother as the perpetrator: Sarah Montague asked her seven times about her lifestyle. Her patronising preoccupation was how many men there have been in her life, not her judgment about them. Has any other, apparently blameless mother been so sweetly assailed?

No one thought Karen Matthews had abducted or killed her daughter – and yet she has been judged. Some commentators think they can say anything they like about this woman and even to her. She has spoken with reticent dignity, yet her class makes her available for blame.

Oh, that sort of commentariat in denial.

What astonishing gall Campbell possesses.