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New compensation scheme to be introduced for child abuse victims

A national compensation scheme for victims of child sexual abuse will be introduced in England, the Home Secretary has said.

But opposition MPs urged the Home Secretary not to delay introducing the necessary reforms, with some key changes set to be introduced following a consultation process.

The move comes several months after a seven-year inquiry into institutional failings in England and Wales recommended the creation of a redress scheme for survivors.

The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), published last October, called for a fixed-term compensation scheme for victims “let down by institutions in the past”.

Suella Braverman told MPs the scheme was a “landmark commitment”, but also appeared to acknowledge that change would take time.

“It will mark a step change in our approach to child sexual abuse, we need to and we will get it right, and if that takes time that is time well spent; I do not want to give victims and survivors the false impression that implementing these big commitments will just happen overnight,” she told the Commons.

“But what I can promise them is today heralds a new start, it signifies a change in direction and it represents an acknowledgement of what they’ve been through, of what they’ve testified and the work of this inquiry.”

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 – and more than 7,000 victims took part.

Rishi Sunak visit to Yorkshire
Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman with National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children chief executive Peter Wanless last month (Lindsey Parnaby/PA)

The IICSA, in making the recommendation, said applicants to the scheme should have experienced abuse “where there is a clear connection to state or non-state institutions”.

In making the case for a redress scheme, the inquiry said there were issues with current civil justice and criminal compensation schemes which often “do not provide the accountability and reparation sought by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse”.

The Government said that 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 rejected a number of the inquiry’s other recommendations, ruling out calls for a minister for children in the Cabinet.

The formal Government response, published on Monday, argued that 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 accepted the need for a stronger safeguarding system, it believed the functions of a recommended Child Protection Authority were already covered by other bodies.

Mrs Braverman, who visited Barnardo’s children’s charity in east London earlier, said that the Government response “must mark a step change for victims and survivors”.

She told broadcasters that she hoped the scheme would bring “some finality, some acknowledgment of what they have been through and hopefully some closure”.

Ministers also said the Government is moving “quickly” to introduce a mandatory duty on professionals working with children to report concerns about sexual abuse, with a 12-week consultation launched.

The Home Secretary stressed the need for a “culture change” to tackle abuse.

“We need to embed and integrate reporting of signs and indicators of child sexual abuse, where professionals see them, whether that’s teachers, social workers, health professionals.

“In too many instances, as all the reports really set out, those signs have not been acted upon,” she said.

She said that the consultation would ensure ministers “get the balance right” with the new mandatory duty.

The Home Office said that ministers were also looking at ways to improve access to therapeutic support for victims, while also improving the collection of police data on child abuse.

Labour led calls for the Government to get on with introducing the changes to help protect children from sexual abuse, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper telling MPs: “Children and teenagers have paid the price of the country’s failure to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation.

“This is about the victims and survivors, but it is also about future generations of children whose safety and lives will be at risk if we do not see action.”

Last month, Rishi Sunak and Mrs Braverman announced a crackdown on grooming gangs, with a new task force of specialist officers assisting local police forces to solve child sexual exploitation investigations.

The Prime Minister promised to “stop at nothing to stamp out these vile crimes, punish the perpetrators and make sure every child across the country can grow up in a safe environment”.

Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said that elements of the announcement were “disappointing”.

She added: “A staggering 103,000 offences were recorded by police last year and it is disappointing that the needs of children who are subjected to sexual abuse are missing from the pledges the Government makes today.

“Proposals to reform child protection to make sure children are safe on and offline are welcome but need to go further and faster.

“Survivors of abuse deserve redress but it is also vital that child victims of sexual abuse can access therapeutic support when and where they need it.

“It is disappointing that the inquiry’s clear recommendation that all child victims of sexual abuse should be guaranteed specialist, accredited therapeutic support is absent from the concrete commitments made by the Government.”

IICSA Changemakers, a group of 64 organisations urging the Government to go further to tackle child sexual abuse, said they were “concerned by the lack of any meaningful support for children and adult survivors”.

“The commitments that have been made do not translate to immediate action which would achieve the scale of change required to create and sustain a national movement to prevent, recognise and address child sexual abuse.

“It is disappointing that a significant number of the cross-sector recommendations that could have led to real change have been curbed by the Government, which is either narrowing them down or assuming that existing mechanisms already address the need.”

Ian Dean, director of the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, welcomed the announcement but said that the details, which will come after further consultation, would be “incredibly important”.

He added: “It is vital that the Government honours its commitments to victims and survivors, and to protecting children today from sexual abuse in the future.”