To add to the ongoing criticisms of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), Josie Appleton takes aim at the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB):
The CRB is a classic late New Labour institution: flabby, inefficient and feeding on mistrust. It has doubled in size since 2002, growing from 1.4m checks a year to about 3.9m in 2008. With the new vetting database – which will include everyone who works or volunteers with children or “vulnerable people” – state intrusion will become even more pervasive. About 12 million adults will be kept on this continuously updated register.
The ballooning of bureaucracy is fed by paranoia and suspicion. Anyone, apparently, could be a paedophile, even those grannies helping out at the nursery, and it is only through the cleansing hand of bureaucrats that we are declared clean and “safe”. The less people are trusted, the more faith is placed in bureaucrats – and all their reassuring jargon about databases, “risk management procedures” and “approaches to safeguarding”.
And yet as she says the CRB made 1570 mistakes last year – twice the total from the previous year. People getting branded paedophiles when they’re not, employers making decisions about individuals based on a bureaucrat’s word rather than judging and risk assessing them on their own merits, is it a symptom of our detachment from one another or a contributing cause? Weber wrote of the ‘iron cage’ of rationalisation, and it does look as though bureaucracy indeed puts us in an iron cage, limiting individual human freedom and potential instead of ushering in a “technological utopia” that should set us free. We are becoming rigid and dehumanised, the more we place our faith in rationalisation and bureaucracy, and the irony is the evidence is everywhere that we should not. Ritzer suggests society is going as far as to become ‘McDonaldised‘, where traditional values are getting replaced by predictability, standardisation and methods of control – we eat ‘fast’ food, which perversely isn’t fast, nor is it as good food as we can make on our own, but the paradigm we’re operating under makes it difficult to see. The CRB and the ISA (the rationalisation of the irrational) are also evidence that Weber and Ritzer were both right – but who loses out? The kids. Suicide rates for children and young people are increasing, CRBs and ISAs abound, which (again consistently with Weber’s ‘iron cage’ theory) by their depersonalising natures don’t have a chance in hell of properly identifying risk or controlling people who genuinely are dangerous.
Even people would become part of the bureaucratised machine said Weber. He was right. And we have to look about setting that right. I hope we can. Rethinking the CRB and abolishing the ISA would be an excellent start.