North unitary set to make care experience a protected characteristic
The council’s executive will decide this morning whether to follow a number of other local authorities and give more protection to those who have lived in care
By Sarah Ward
North Northamptonshire Council is set to give better legal protection to people who have been in care and define their experience as a protected characteristic.
The move has been put forward in a report as one of the final recommendations by the former director of children’s services Anne Marie Dodds, who has now moved on to a new local authority.
The council’s executive, which is led by Conservative Jason Smithers, will today debate and possibly ratify the move.
Having a protected characteristic means people have a right not to be treated less favourably, or subjected to an unfair disadvantage, by reason of that characteristic, for example, because of age, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
The report explains:
“The Public Sector Equality Duty is a duty imposed on all UK public bodies by Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, to take equalities considerations into account when exercising any of their functions and taking decisions. This includes a requirement to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
“‘Care Experience’ is a term used to describe people who are, or who have been, in the care of a local authority. Care experience is not deemed to be a ‘protected characteristic’.
“In treating care experience as if it were a protected characteristic, it means that North Northamptonshire Council must actively and explicitly take the needs of this cohort into account in all future policy and decision making. This will include a requirement to undertake Equality Impact Assessments that explicitly considers the needs of this cohort of people.
“Extending the definition of protected characteristics also places a duty on the authority to include details about care experience in the annual publication of information relating to people who share a protected characteristic in services and employment. This will enable the Council to measure and monitor the impact of services and policy decisions on this cohort more meaningfully.”
The report says that currently more than 30 local authorities have made the decision to make care experience a protected characteristic, following a recommendation by last year’s independent review of children’s social care by Josh MacAlister.
The North unitary report says:
“The Government are [sic] yet to commit to making care experience a protected characteristic, but there are a growing number of local authorities acting locally.”
Also to be discussed at the executive (which starts at 10am and can be watched on YouTube) will be the council’s financial situation. Currently it is on course to overspend its £336.59m annual budget by £7.8m - an increase of more than £600,000 from the last report two months ago.
And the financial situation concerning the cost of accommodation for children in care is continuing to rise, with estimates that the Northamptonshire Children’s Trust which runs the service could go over budget by more than £26m (a cost which will be split between the county’s two unitary authorities).
While the trust is responsible for the running of the service, overall statutory responsibility for the welfare of children in care.