By Nicholas Sebly
Kids Company was a charity that looked after maltreated children who the state seemed unable to help. It used a ‘wraparound’ model of care in which clients could get help with needs as varied as housing, food, education or emotional trauma, even outside office hours.
The charity closed in August this year after the government cut funding and a blizzard of allegations, some very serious, appeared about it in the press. The widely accepted narrative is that the charity was mismanaged and the government should have withdrawn its funding earlier.
The CEO and founder of Kids Company, unsurprisingly, had a different explanation for its demise. She maintains the intent and stridency of her recent See the Child campaign had been threatening to the government and they responded by briefing the media and instigating a reputational meltdown. No one in the press has taken these claims seriously, but here are five reasons that they might be true:
- Anti-austerity message. From 2013 onwards Kids Company became increasingly outspoken about the impacts of local government cuts. The message of the See the Child campaign was fourfold: child social care is not fit for purpose; coalition budget cuts had made the situation much worse; and local authorities are partaking in illegal practices to avoid their statutory obligations to help abused children. The final point was essentially that the austerity narrative was a lie: this was about economic priorities. As Ms Batmanghelidjh said in the Daily Mail in Nov 2013: ‘We spend £42.2 billion on defence, £40 billion is set aside for high-speed rail, but the budget for child protection in England and Wales in 2010 was £113 million.’
- Timing: See the Child was launched in July 2014, nine months before the election campaign; it is easy to forget how tightly contested the election was and how panicked Tory HQ were leading up to it. Only 4 days before the vote both parties were neck and neck on 33% and Paddy Power had Mr Miliband as 8/11 favourite to become the next PM. Anthony Seldon later revealed that on May 7th Cameron “convinced himself that he will not be prime minister in 24 hours”. In this context a high-profile media campaign asking the general public to place their votes on behalf of children ‘failed by the state’ could easily have angered the Tories.
- The National Taskforce. As part of her campaign Ms Batmanghelidjh decided to instigate a ‘wholesale rescue and redesign’ of child social care and mental health services. She set up her own National Taskforce supported by the NSPCC, Barnados, The Royal College of Paediatrics, The Royal College of Psychiatry etc. The taskforce was chaired by Keir Starmer (ex-DPP) and included influential figures such as Dame Tessa Jowell MP, children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson, and former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. Normally voluntary sector organisations are very reluctant to challenge the government as they can lose funding. The fact that Ms Batmanghelidjh had organised such a coalition to both circumvent and force change on the government no doubt offended and alarmed some politicians and civil servants.
- The CEO made powerful enemies. Ms Batmanghelidj was very well connected with a high media profile. This protected her for awhile but Kids Company’s increasingly strident message that child social care be funded on a par with defence or the NHS put it on a collision course with powerful forces determined to shrink the state. She is known to have clashed with Michael Gove at the Department of Education, and the Minister for Children Tim Laughton, amongst others. Many of the people and organisations critical of Kids Company are connected through The Centre for Policy Studies a powerful neo-liberal think-tank set up by Thatcher in 1974. Since inception it has acted as a hub for free-marketeers from media and politics to exchange ideas and strategies. Currently Fraser Nelson (Spectator) and Viscountess Rothermere (Daily Mail) are board members, and Harriet Sergeant works for them as a research fellow. This is not necessarily a direct conspiracy but the murmuration of similar world views and vested interests.
- The psychology of our elites: Many of the people currently running our economy and media had similar upbringings. Figures such as Fraser Nelson, Viscount Rothermere and 62% of the current cabinet went to boarding schools; some, like David Cameron, were as young as seven. This experience is described by psychologists as privileged abandonment, in which nurturing family bonds are sacrificed for ‘the hothousing of entitlement’. The result can be the development of a strategic survival personality– in which the child, forced to become prematurely self-reliant, has to bury their grief and appear competent in order to avoid bullying and ostracism. This can lead to very driven strategic adults who can prosper in the workplace but fear intimacy and genuine empathic connection. In some senses these elites are recreating their childhood for everyone else- an atomised reality in which trust, community, and empathy are lacking: a world where the safest thing one can do is focus on work. Critics of this theory would point out that Cameron and Gove bestowed plenty of praise- and money- on Kids Company – even in the last 18 months. But as John Le Carre, himself a boarding school survivor , writes in Our Game: ‘In the world where Larry and I did our growing up it would be quite wrong to presume that, merely because the right hand is bestowing consolation, the left hand is not considering covert action of its own.’
None of this is to imply there weren’t problems at the charity. In this interpretation of events Kids Company was flawed, but whilst it filled the gaps in state provision and remained relatively muted in its criticisms, those imperfections were allowed to stand. However, once Kids Company decided to publically challenge a system that has allowed child social care to be underfunded for decades- its failings were fed to the press.
You can read the full article ‘Kids Company spoke truth to power: was it silenced?’ by clicking here.