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The state is the worst wicked stepmother of all

31 March 2014

What a fantastically stupid idea, I thought, reading the paper this morning. 

‘Parents who fail to show love and affection towards their children could be sent to prison for up to 10 years under a “Cinderella Law” to be announced in the Queen’s Speech in June, according to a report. 

‘The move will make “emotional cruelty” a criminal offence for the first time.

The decision was hailed as a “monumental step” forwards by a children’s charity, which said children could grow up with “lifelong mental health problems” or end up taking their own lives.’

The law would make it a criminal offence for any parent to impair a child’s ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’, criminalising emotional as well as physical abuse – which could be interpreted to mean almost every parent who ever lived, since we’ve all failed at some point to be perfect and given them enough affection. What about people who just aren’t very emotional towards their kids, yet provide adequate sustenance? Would Winston Churchill have been taken into care?

Love your children, or else the government will take them away – it’s almost as if New Labour never lost power.

Clearly parents who physically abuse their children are also more likely to emotionally abuse them, too; and an increase in the number of children being taken into care will lead to a decline in the number of children being murdered by parents or stepparents.

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But there is a balance to be had here; if the state took away all children then the number murdered by parents would be zero, but that idea hasn’t been in fashion much since the Battle of Leuctra, and only overtly authoritarian regimes see child-rearing to be the responsibility of government. But this new proposal certainly does tip the balance between parents and state further towards the latter.

That balance has been shifting for a number of years now, largely because of disappearing social norms about parenting, and the decline of informal uses of coercion such as stigma and shame. We’re supposed to celebrate all family types, even if some have much higher rates of violence than others.

The new law gives an indirect hint at its target in the name; children are far more at risk of being abused by non-biological parents and this is known as ‘the Cinderella Effect’. ‘Cinderella’ is a classic example of a fairy tale that speaks an essential truth about mankind’s nature; that non-blood relations can be a threat to children, as any primatologist can tell you. This was a common problem when mortality rates among the parents of young children were high, but declined in the 18th-20th centuries.

However, the number of children raised without one of their parents has increased sharply in recent years, partly due to changing sexual mores but also the involvement of the state itself; the largest increase in non-marital births came after the 1977 Homeless Persons Act gave lone mothers priority on housing lists.

The Tory MP behind this proposal wrote, ‘The sad truth is that, until now, the Wicked Stepmother would have got away scot-free.’ Possibly, but there would not have been so many wicked stepmothers, or stepfathers, or mother’s current boyfriends, without the state in the first place.

Without social mores that encourage people to raise children in ways that best protect them, and without financial incentives to do so, the only alternative is towards a more Spartan view of the state as parent to us all; and a parent that hinders our physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development.

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Show comments
  • William Clark

    I am no fan of the state but I cringe when I hear as often one does parents speaking plain unkindly to their children. Of course the state is very much to blame through demonising, as middle class indoctrination or meddling, any form of advice or guidance for people but in doing so leaving them bereft of the accumulated experience of generations. The socialists will look after you – yeah right.

  • Ed Gouge

    Discussion and arguments fine but please don’t create myths. The number of births to unmarried women rose in 1978 by the same amount as in 1977 and 1976. This has been a rising trend over a long period of time and it is impossible to make any inferences about the effect of the 1977 Homelessness legislation.

    • Mr Grumpy

      Source? And why impossible?

      • Ed Gouge

        Source is the Office for National Statistics Birth Summary Tables and impossible under the normal rules of inference in the social sciences

        • Mr Grumpy

          Any online source other than the ONS which seems to have nothing earlier than 1988?

  • FrenchNewsonlin

    Seems Cameron failed to clean out Labour moles in the public service. This is highly retrogressive stuff but on a par with Leveson and similar Orwellian abuses he supports. Freedom and liberty in the Brussels’ EU appear to be an ongoing daily struggle.

  • David Hussell

    First the State attacks marriage as the bedrock of society, since the 1970’s and onwards, then it attempts to deal with the unfortunate results, which will lead inexorably to greater injustices. The madness of the left/liberal social trajectory. How will this be paid for, with yet more taxes ? The money is not the point, it is the trail of human misery that will form in the wake of this socialist Orwellian madness that is the tragedy. How can Cameron call himself a Conservative ? This is not conservative but radical, socialist re-engineering of society.

  • Teacher

    My parents, bringing me up in the sizties, would certainly have been guilty of neglect and emotional abuse today. I survived a difficult childhood and do not judge them harshly as they were products of their own upbringing and I now realise what a hard job it is to control and discipline children, even ‘good’ ones such as I was. The last thing that parents need is to be demonised when they are doing the hardest job in the world. I had two children myself, one of whom was as good as gold and the other one decidedly not. Different children need different approaches within civilised paremeters. We do not need the state interfering to micromanage and criticise those who know best about their own children:- the parents of those children.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Another scheme HMG dreamed up to keep the law-abiding citizen on the back foot and too cowed to protest. Look at the way Britain has been made paedophile crazy. An obviously lost and distressed child is abandoned in a town centre and literally hundreds walk by ignoring the kid. You really need to start taking your country back, Britisher pals.

  • Iain Hill

    April Fool!

  • vieuxceps2

    It is known that some parents are incapable of loving their children, or perhaps just one of their children. Not wicked or criminal, but incapable. What will happen to them under this law?
    It’s rather like requiring that we all like Telemachus.Can’t be done.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Parents who fail to show love and affection towards their children could be sent to prison for up to 10 years under a “Cinderella Law”.

    Yet another reason to avoid becoming a parent.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Nationalising childhood as this would effectively be is probably the most evil idea yet proposed by our rotten political class. Those who are in favour of it should be humanely put down!

    • Liz

      No it isn’t. Go and read the source material don’t rely on Ed West’s superficial assessment.

  • HookesLaw

    I do not think the proposal is ‘love your children or we will take them away’
    Although in passing it seems strange to want to allow parents to ‘keep’ children they do not love. The words belong to journalists who interpret their nleaks for grand effect.

    BTW – Not long ago we had a woman in Dewsbury who cared for her child so much she participated in a fake kidnap attempt.

    The proposal as far as I can divine it related to emotional cruelty – the emphasis seems to be (and certainly should be) on ‘cruelty’. I do not know what the current state of law is relating to spusal abuse but I suspect that emotional cruelty forms a part.
    I believe that emotional cruelty forms part of grounds for divorce under unreasonabe behaviour – so I do not see it being particularly difficult to prove.

    The ideas may be good or bad, but they ought to be considered on a basis of facts.

    West rants on about social mores…. it seems he cares about children so much he wopuld rather they were not born in the first place.
    Crtainly he is keen to shoehorn us all into boxes of hbis making and liking.

    • la catholic state

      Because the State loves our children so much. No they don’t. Children in state ‘care’ are often abused and have terrible disrupted, unstable and unhappy lives when they leave.. This is State Child Abuse……as is taking children from their families…when they should be left.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Another reason to “hate it and leave it”.

  • Kitty MLB

    Preposterous and somewhat disquieting.
    Reminds me of a film set in the 70s called the Lives of Others, get in East
    Germany about a couple who had there house bugged by the state, who were listening into every part of their lives- sinister !!!
    Mind you, if Milipede were taken into care as a child instead of being bounced on the
    knee of his fathers bonkers socialist friends.. he may have been less weird.
    I must say, Nanny most certainly doesn’t know best.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Speaking as somebody who was neglected as a child, although not conscious of it at the time, I too think this is a terrible idea. My mother may have been far from perfect but putting her in prison would not have made anybody’s life any better, apart perhaps from that of well-paid bureaucrats.

    • Liz

      And your anecdote should be the basis of a more generalised approach?

      • ScaryBiscuits

        Yes. Feel free to add some evidence of your own though, or isn’t that required in your socialist Brave New World?

  • Donafugata

    I’ve just had to check in the DT. Conservative MP Robert Buckland is also a part-time judge and it is he who is responsible for this lunacy.

    I gave up getting mad at things like this years ago, now I just laugh.

  • la catholic state

    Resources will be diverted from children who really are at risk…and they will suffer terribly as a consequence. This is State Child Abuse….as is taking children from parents who don’t physically abuse or neglect them. Total evil.

  • Donafugata

    Is this Private Eye or a bona fides

  • Colin56

    It’s a lawyers’ paradise, dreamt up by legislator lawyers to enrich litigation lawyers and for the overall benefit of …all lawyers. Who could possibly object?

    • McRobbie

      And a blank book for nanny state social workers to write what ever story suits them about “evil” parents..who are almost always trying their best in the circumstances given them. Heaven help new parents if this goes through.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Unbelievable. The burden of proof, if there is one, will be interesting.

    Pity there is not a law that would put MPs in jail for up to 10 years for the emotional cruelty caused by really bad law.

  • Mr Creosote

    Let’s just put them all in school from age 2 for 12 hrs a day as Liz truss and Michael Wilshaw would have it – what possible emotional / behavioural damage could result from that !!

    • MrsDBliss

      Exactly my reaction. How can this be from the same government that is advocating so much childcare provision whilst taking money from traditional, single income families who choose to stay at home and look after their kids????

  • RavenRandom

    “The law would make it a criminal offence for any parent to impair a child’s ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’,” What could possibly go wrong?
    It’s not like an over-zealous social worker could just take away peoples children is it? Oh wait, it is.

  • AndrewMelville

    A hideous Orwellian law. It is hard to believe that this vile bill could be proposed in what used to be a liberal western state.

    • telemachus

      Only those who approve of shutting children in cupboards would oppose this

      • MrsDBliss

        Oh, so you’re using the same tactical play book as those who support gay marriage?

        • telemachus

          I simply recognise we have moved on from Victorian times
          No doubt you would send children back up chimneys

          • Colonel Mustard

            More hyperbole. No-one is suggesting children should be sent up chimneys. No-one has suggested that for more than one hundred years.

            It is utterly bogus to deploy that silly taunt in response to concern about this proposed law.

      • Colonel Mustard


      • Smithersjones2013

        Well given the damage your parents clearly did you I can understand why you might be in favour of such a deranged and evil idea.

        • Tom Allalone

          The problem is they let him out

          • Andy

            Watching some unruly brat running around cafes making everyones lives a misery, and watching the useless pathetic and damn rude parents doing sod all to control offending brat, keeping some of them in cupboards sounds very appealing. Same for the bloody useless parents.

          • Teacher

            A teacher at my old school made a disruptive pupil stand in his large storage cupboard/office until he calmed down (the child not the teacher). The teacher, a Cambridge graduate who had fantastic subject knowledge and got amazing results for working class children who would not have encountered a mind like his elsewhere, was eased out because of it. What a result for the children who could have got A grades at GCSE and A level but who lost the teacher who could deliver them.

      • AndrewMelville

        Utter nonsense. When did we completely lose the plot and decide that every thing that we should do or shouldn’t do should be regulated by the state? Even if this area required additional intervention, this law will be 1) completely ineffective and 2) bring on so many bad consequences for ordinary family as to make it an utter folly.

        • telemachus

          Daniel Pelka might disagree
          But then it is too late for him

          • AndrewMelville

            Poor wee boy.

            But his example supports my case. He suffered from extreme physical abuse. The authorities (as usual) did nothing. Were this silly law in place then, do you really think they would have acted on the emotional abuse while ignoring the stark evidence of physical abuse?

            • Colonel Mustard

              Ignore telemachus. That is the sort of emotive intimidation authoritarians like him deploy to shut down dissent. The fact that this insanity has been proposed by a supposed Tory and telemachus is a tribal Labourite tells us all we need to know about the true nature of the political struggle that lays ahead.

            • telemachus

              Please do not bury your head in the sand. Read this from the NSPCC:
              Emotional abuse is severe and persistent ill treatment of a child.

              It can have long-lasting and devastating effects on a child’s emotional health and development.

              Emotional abuse may be the only form of abuse suffered by a child, or it might be an element of other child abuse and neglect

              Emotional abuse includes:

              humiliating or criticising a child

              disciplining a child with degrading punishments

              not recognising a child’s own individuality and limitations
              • pushing them too hard
              • being too controlling

              exposing a child to distressing events or interactions
              • domestic abuse
              • substance misuse

              faling to promote a child’s social development
              • not allowing them to have friends

              persistently ignoring a child

              being absent

              never expressing positive feelings towards a child

              never showing any emotions in interactions with a child (emotional neglect).

              • Kitty MLB

                I am not in the slightest part shocked that a leftie
                would approve of this.. its so, Labour is it not .

                • Andy

                  It is more Fascist bullish*t. No wonder telemachus is in favour of it.

              • saffrin

                Then along came gay adoption.
                You ain’t seen nothing yet.

                • FrenchNewsonlin

                  The pushback on that one is being led by the French Manif pour tous with a website in 5 languages. They clearly hope the message spreads.

                • saffrin

                  Thanks. A subject posters refuse to breach for fear of attracting labels.


                • Jackthesmilingblack

                  With the Catholic Church`s record, I would have thought gay parents would have been the least of the kids` worries.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Much of this would be entirely subjective, difficult to prove and should have no place in criminal law. It is a nightmare dreamed up by a Utopian half-wit.

                In many countries with a less deranged hysteria about child protection and more successful education systems almost every parent would have to be arrested for “pushing them too hard” and “being controlling” over schoolwork.

                • AndrewMelville

                  Exactly. The current laws are sufficient to combat abuse – and yet the authorities frequently fail.

                  This new proposal is so broad and subjective that it resembles something a totalitarian government might implement. If it passes, we can expect that the authorities will not use it to protect children in truly horrific situations, but will use it to harass ordinary, happy families that fall inadvertently into their foul maws.

                • GeeBee36_6

                  I’m not sure what your, and other commenters’ definition of totalitarian government is, but Lib-Lab-Con more or less fills mine. There is no real choice there, and any vestige of pretense that there was has been stripped away by the current ‘Tory’ PM.

                  It has been pointed out by the nascent neo-reactionary school of political philosophy that European and American ‘democracy’ typically involves a two-party system, and that there is always the ‘inner’ party and the ‘outer’ party. The former are ‘progressives’ of the left-liberal persuasion, the latter, a rag-tag band of so-called conservatives.

                  The inner parties push the progressive agenda further and further along the lines we now observe (PC to give it a short name, or Cultural Marxism if you want to be more accurate), and the hapless outer parties meekly tag along after a ‘decent’ interval, capitulating to the ever more extreme policies of the inner parties. Thus today’s conservatives (a misnomer if ever there was one: no conservative party has succeeded
                  in actually conserving anything for arguably a century or more) are no more than yesterday’s progressives.

                  In Cameron, we see what might be a new development: he understands that the inner party (Labour in our case of course) has set the agenda for a generation now, and has grasped the fact that in order to be re-elected he must steal their clothes, and become as progressive as they. Hence gay marriage, foreign aid, and now this. ‘Stealing’ the children of the electorate is, of course, a core tenet of progressivism. It’s machinery – ‘the cathedral’ – works to ‘manufacture consent’ among the electorate, and thus Its aim is to have control of children not just when they are sitting in front of uniformly progressive schoolteachers for six or seven hours a day, but to have them 24/7. .

                • AndrewMelville

                  Well said.

              • Teacher

                But define:: –
                misuse and so on
                One man’s discipline is another man’s abuse. I personally think that many aspects of liberal parenting and parenting which engenders a delusionally high selnse of self worth are abusive given that children must fit in to the real world and become employable to survive. But the left would think my rather ‘boundaries led’ approach abusive.
                This law would be unworkable. Or rather it would be putting a revolver in the hand of the left to the detriment of children’s welfare.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  “Or rather it would be putting a revolver in the hand of the left to the detriment of children’s welfare.”

                  I think that is the idea, just another step towards creating pre-revolutionary chaos and the absolute supremacy of the state over our lives. But the aspect that should probably concern us most is that this was proposed by a “conservative” MP.

          • Chris Bond

            Starved to death and beaten, and the social workers didn’t click on. Yet you expect them to pick up on emotional abuse?

            And you really think a bunch of mentally retarded social workers should get to define emotional and developmental abuse? The same type who told the Rochdale abused girls to learn Urdu?

            Are you really so thick you think a state employing totalitarian powers is agreeable?

            • telemachus

              Rely not on Social Workers
              Where are the Teachers, the Neighbours, the GP’s, the Police?
              We also have a resposibility
              Including the bleaters against this proposal

              • Chris Bond

                I give up. You are clearly unhinged.

                • Andy

                  He is a Fascist, and therefore an enemy of the people. But unhinged also covers it.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Horrible East-Germany Stasi man. Go away you nasty little goblin.

      • Teacher

        Nonsense. When my children were young they thought they were being emotionally abused when they were sent to bed at bed time and were forbidden excess sweeties. How can there be a sensible law when the definition of emotional abuse is so very wide? The left will use it to justify liberal parenting and state intervention in child rearing. We all know how it will end up. Children taken into care and being locked in cupboards by kindly social workers inplementing the latest behaviour initiative.

      • gelert


    • Chris Bond

      It clearly got it’s source in the EU.

      • William Clark


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