Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights / Policing / Protest rights

Frontline workers warn Policing Bill puts young people at risk

Posted on 13 Sep 2021

  • Over 660 GPs, nurses, social workers and more sound warning over Policing Bill
  • Letter to Home Secretary says Bill would force them to breach professional duty
  • Liberty and rights groups call for Lords to scrap oppressive legislation

Over 660 frontline healthcare, community, social and education workers backed by Liberty, the British Association of Social Workers and healthcare campaign group Medact, have called for parts of the Policing Bill to be scrapped ahead of a key debate in the House of Lords next week.

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, sent today, Monday 13 September, the signatories warned that the Serious Violence proposals in the Bill would require them to breach their professional duties of confidentiality and put young people in danger.

The 665 signatories, including GPs, nurses, social workers, community youth and outreach workers, teachers, therapists, and many others, also objected to the creation of Serious Violence Reduction Orders. These will create a new stop and search power that removes the requirement of “reasonable suspicion” for police to search certain people.

“As frontline community workers who have made a professional and personal commitment to supporting and caring for people, including young people, we are appalled by these proposals, which we believe directly conflict with our duties and will actively put people we work with in harm’s way…

“We may soon be forced to betray the hard-earned trust and relationships we have built with young people, as well as our professional duties, in order to comply with police requests. This will only have the effect of fomenting alienation and exclusion and making young people and their communities less safe.”

While the Government has said it aims to follow a public health approach to tackling serious violence, these proposals constitute a police-led approach that will cause further harm, the letter says.

The Policing Bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords next week. Since it was officially tabled earlier this year, the Bill has caused widespread outrage and the petition is the latest sign of a groundswell of objection to the Government’s dangerous proposals, including:

  • Over 600,000 people signed a petition against the Bill coordinated between human rights groups, environmentalists, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller advocates and other charities.
  • Over 700 academics called for the Bill to be dropped.
  • Three UN Special Rapporteurs warned the Bill threatens our rights.
  • Polling found nearly two thirds of the public  concerned about the protest crackdown.
  • Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said its proposals are “oppressive and wrong”.

Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “We all want to feel safe in our communities and live our lives free from discrimination and harassment. The proposals in the Policing Bill will not make us safer, they double down on failed and oppressive strategies that will ultimately put more people at risk.

“The Policing Bill creates dangerous restrictions on our right to protest and threatens the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities. The new police powers it creates will lead to harassment and oppressive monitoring of young people, working class people and people of colour – especially Black people – in particular, and expand existing measures that will funnel more people into the criminal punishment system.

“Peers must stand up for our rights and reject this Bill, and the Government needs to reverse course on the array of dangerous proposals it contains.”

Dr Abi Deivanayagam – Specialty Registrar/Trainee in Public Health, said: “The serious violence duty in the Policing Bill pushes health workers to give information on patients to the police, which undermines confidentiality and risks breaking the trust patients have in health workers. The police are agents of a system that relies on punishment to solve deep-seated social and economic problems that results in criminalised behaviours. Public health is rooted in collective wellbeing, prevention and fairness for everyone in the community.

“The Policing Bill does not align with the principles of public health, which is why hundreds of health workers are calling for it to be scrapped immediately.”

Reem Abu-Hayyeh, Interim Co-Director of Medact, said: “It’s extremely likely that the proposed serious violence duty will lead to racial profiling, a loss of trust in clinicians, and psychological distress. We know this because it mirrors the Prevent counter-extremism policy in its focus on ‘pre-crime’ interventions and its entry into patient-practitioner relationships.

“Our research has shown that the Prevent duty in healthcare causes serious harms to public health, and it is clear that this new duty will too. The government must scrap the PCSC Bill if it wants to be serious about public health, and particularly it must scrap the serious violence duty.”

Gavin Moorghen, Professional Officer at British Association of Social Workers, said: “As social workers, our priority is to support the people we work with, and to uphold the highest professional standards and ethics in doing so. The duty of confidentiality is crucial to our ability to protect people’s dignity and privacy, foster relationships of trust, and deliver high quality care. The Policing Bill may soon force us to betray the hard-earned trust and relationships we have built with young people, as well as our professional duties, by requiring us to be complicit in their criminalisation, surveillance, and punishment.

“The only effective approach to serious violence is to focus on the root causes – such as poverty, racism, and other forms of structural injustice.”

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