England bans babysitting by friends

You thought No joy in Middleville was crazy:  A Michigan woman was told not to watch neighbors’ kids waiting for the bus without a license. Nobody can match the English for meddling bureaucrats:   Two job-sharing policewomen have been threatened with prosecution as illegal childminders because they trade babysitting for their two-year-old daughters, who are best friends.

But the mothers, both 32, have now been told by Ofsted that surveillance teams will spy on their homes to make sure they are not continuing to care for each other’s daughter.

For the past two-and-a-half years, one looked after both of the girls while the other worked a ten-hour shift. Both worked two days a week.

A neighbor’s complaint triggered the inspection.

The nanny state exempts only family members from the ban on babysitting for more than two hours a day. Both mothers have placed their daughters in child-care centers.  One mother, separated from her husband, has applied for government benefits to pay the cost.

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Comments

  1. What has happened to those people?

  2. I would like to know exactly what the neighbors said about them to alert the state – both in this story and the Middleville story. What a bunch of nonsense. What business is it of silly beaurocrats? Two women cooperating so they could make it on their own – without government assistance – a crime only in a place where the government has gotten TOO BIG. Meanwhile, America is marching oh-so-steadily into the same thing.

    If I wanted to live in Europe, I’d move there.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I read a fascinating article the other week that said, more or less, that capitalism can only succeed by alienating people from the necessities of life and forcing them into market transactions. So, you might think that you can happily grow food on your farm and live out your days in self-sustaining pastoral bliss…. but property taxes ensure that you are unable to do this, for you will LOSE your land if you do not create wealth and transfer it for cash. No food, no life. Ergo, everyone is forced into a cash economy.

    I thought the piece overwrought, but quite possibly onto something that I had had a generalized but unexpressed feeling about for a long time. I see things like this as simply an extension of this overarching principle: no bartering, no self-sustainability… everything must be quantified and forced into a cash-market economy so it can be measured and taxed, and perhaps more importantly, so people are forced to produce wealth and transform it into more cash.

    Some may accept this proposition and say, “Yes, that’s the point. Wealth creation is GOOD for society.”

    I remain unsure.

  4. Holy moley. That’s insane. Better not tell anyone that I often babysit friends’ children!

    Wait a second. What, then, do the British do about having friends over to play? What if a kid spends the afternoon at a buddy’s house while his mom is at work, is that also babysitting? Does it only count if you get paid?

  5. Interesting point, Michael E. Lopez. However, if this hypothetical self-sustaining farmer had no income from the farm, wouldn’t s/he get an Earned Tax Income Credit while, obviously, not paying income taxes? Wouldn’t this number be larger than the property tax number? Also, if said farmer is self-sustaining, then they aren’t rally that big of a farmer and the property taxes won’t be too excessive and they will be fine. However, if they are bartering food to get material goods and trying to avoid using cash (living off the grid so to speak) while at the same time enjoying the benefits and securities of living in a tax supported society (i.e. police, courts to ensure that nobody steals the farmer’s land, and so on), isn’t that farmer a bit of a parasite? Discuss!

  6. This actually happened to my own mother when I was growing up! In spite of the fact that she was a stay at home mom raising six children incredibly well, a neighbor snitched when she was taking care of a neighbor’s young daughter while she as at work. My mother had to get a daycare license just to watch the kid while we (her children) and that child’s mother were all at school. I think that if my mother could handle six kids between the ages of zero and ten, that she could handle one four-year-old. Sheesh.

  7. I read a fascinating article the other week that said, more or less, that capitalism can only succeed by alienating people from the necessities of life and forcing them into market transactions.

    Capitalism, or government?

    The main problem with that article’s argument is that it’s government that passes property taxes, not capitalism. And all sorts of governments have passed taxes, initially to pay for wars and the ruling class’s luxuries.

    In this particular case the British governing party which passed the law is backpedalling rapidly, I think it was bad lawwriting.

  8. Oh Michael, you’re so wrong. People who enjoy the daily reality of the pastoral bliss of subsistence farming are willing to trade it for a hovel in a slum.

    But just so we don’t go too far afield, what does anyone expect from bureaucrats? They live and die by the rules that are handed to them, while making a name for themselves by cautiously expanding their reach, so a transgression of those sacred rules is treated very seriously.

    Not much room for common sense in that situation and the exercise thereof is fraught with danger. Why court the danger? Just stick to the rules no matter how idiotic the outcome.

  9. Allen, this wasn’t just a rule, it was a law, legally passed by parliament. How much discretion should be given to bureaucrats to ignore the law of the land? And are you willing to defend them in court if they get charged with breaking the law?

    And, why criticise the bureaucrats who enforce the law for a lack of commonsense and not criticise the politicians who passed the law for their lack of commonsense? The responsibility for this mess lies with the British MPs.

  10. Jolly old England doesn’t seem to be very jolly anymore, and the USA seems to be sliding down the same slope.

    These days it seems each additional government regulation results in greater levels of absurdity. Guess they are running out of rational ways to control the populous.

    Parents will have to start claiming kinship with their baby-sitters and have the government try to prove them wrong. Something like third or fourth cousin twice removed. Who knows. It might even turn out to be true. That ought to cause the government worker more trouble than they want to investigate.

  11. Tracy, you might want to take your knee-jerk reflex off of full automatic since I was explaining, even defending, those bureaucrats. It’s not my fault that the defense, the facts of the situation, don’t inspire much respect but then that’s the nature of the job.

    The sort of cleverness and energy that might be rewarded in the private sector has little scope for action in government so isn’t seen as much of a plus, at least as a part of an individual’s job.

    Of course human ingenuity will find some means of expressing itself so the exceptional bureaucrat who discovers a means to expand the reach of the agency that employs them is a valuable employee.

  12. Allen, again you don’t mention the politicians who wrote this stupid law.

    I also think your “defence” didn’t work. For a start, I entirely missed that it was a defence, I thought it was an attack. It also didn’t mention the obvious point that the law was written in such a way as to require such a decision by the bureaucrats. Let’s take your “defence” of bureaucrats, and turn it into something with a higher chance of inspiring respect.

    But just so we don’t go too far afield, what does anyone expect from bureaucrats? They live and die by the rules that are handed to them, while making a name for themselves by cautiously expanding their reach, so a transgression of those sacred rules is treated very seriously.

    Not much room for common sense in that situation and the exercise thereof is fraught with danger. Why court the danger? Just stick to the rules no matter how idiotic the outcome.

    Bureaucrats are, to adopt an old term, public servants. As private servants are paid by their employer, public servants are paid by the tax-paying public, and the rules and conditions of their employment are set by the public’s duly-elected parliamentarians (adjust as necessary for different countries’ political structures). It is the job of the public servant to carry out the instructions of their employers to the best of their professional ability, it is the MPs’ job to determine what those instructions should be. Parliament may of course decide that discretion should be permitted in some areas, but for those points where Parliament has spoken specifically, it is the duty of the public servant to carry out the word of the law, not subsitute their own judgment.

    Consider the alternative – what would happen if public servants could ignore the most specific language of a law whenever they felt that common-sense argued otherwise. Would this not turn a public servant into a public master? Take for example the history of the false recovered memory syndrome, where it did seem commonsense to a wide number of social workers, therapists and prosecutors that people could suppress a memory of abuse and then recover it truly. This wrecked many innocent people’s lives, not only the falsely convicted, but those people who falsely believed that they had been horribly abused, and of course the whole of the family circle. If the public’s representatives chose, in response to such situations, to establish laws protecting people accused of sexual abuse based on recovered memory syndrome, and a public servant such as a prosecutor chooses to ignore such laws because a particular claim seems “commonsense”, what happens to the rule of law? If the prosecutor can’t be voted out (as is in the case in the UK, I don’t know about the USA), doesn’t that turn the public servant into a public master? It’s not like the poor person falsely accused can go shopping for another prosecutor with better sense.

    It is in response to a history of problems like these that the traditions of the public service have been established to obey and follow the law even when it conflicts with what may appear to any individual to be commonsense. Transgression of the rules are treated very seriously because it is the only way that the public has of restraining public servants to act in accordance with the public’s desires. This does mean that in some cases the laws are stuck to no matter how idiotic the outcome, but this is what the rule of law means. To adapt an old quote: “The rule of law is the worse form of public service, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

  13. My defense of government bureaucrats worked just fine and I note that despite your prolixity about all you’ve managed to add to that defense is that those bureaucrats garner insufficient respect.

    I don’t think that, in the main, they’re deserving of much respect since neither creativity, energy or courage are expected or required of them. I’m quite certain that those bureaucrats would vigorously disagree with that observation but who wouldn’t? I’m sure that, without exception those bureaucrats see their services as vital, their job as demanding, their compensation insufficient and their loyalty unswerving but then, who doesn’t?

    That sort of self-serving attitude neither surprises me nor dismays me. People are bad, and good, and bureaucrats are most certainly people. The circumstances in which people find themselves enmeshed dictates to a large extent the actions those people will take and the circumstances in which government bureaucrats find themselves dictates that they’ll act in a manner which occasionally defies common sense.

    As for blaming the politicians for writing bad law, why don’t you just grow up?

    Of course politicians write bad law. Britain and the U.S. both have representative forms of government which means our elected representatives are likely to be just that, representative. Those politicians are unlikely to be smarter or dumber, more energetic or lazier, more honest or less, then their constituents and in aggregate unlikely to produce any better results. To re-appropriate and paraphrase the quote you adapted, if you don’t like the products of the system you are free to suggest alternatives you feel are superior.

  14. Allen, the point of communication is to get your idea across to another person, so, as the other person, I get to evaluate it as well. And I thought your defence was an attack, so it don’t impress me much. You are of course free to ignore my opinion, but that is not going to make your defence of any better quality.

    I don’t think that, in the main, they’re deserving of much respect since neither creativity, energy or courage are expected or required of them.

    I would much prefer my bureaucrats to apply the laws consistently than to be creative about it. And I think setting aside their personal ties and prejudices in order to faithfully serve the public, as expressed by the political representatives, is a virtue as well.

    As for blaming the politicians for writing bad law, why don’t you just grow up?

    Growing up is what I’m working on. That’s why I’m debating with you. Even if you never change your mind, this argument is sharpening my own thinking about the roles of bureaucracy and politicians. The nice thing about this process is that I never need finish growing up, there’s always more to learn, more to think about. Thank you for the time you are spending participating in this process with me.

    Of course politicians write bad law. Britain and the U.S. both have representative forms of government which means our elected representatives are likely to be just that, representative. Those politicians are unlikely to be smarter or dumber, more energetic or lazier, more honest or less, then their constituents and in aggregate unlikely to produce any better results. To re-appropriate and paraphrase the quote you adapted, if you don’t like the products of the system you are free to suggest alternatives you feel are superior.

    How exactly do you expect politicians to write better law if you never criticise them, for example for writing bad law? You say that you think that politicians are no better or worse on average than their electorate, well how well do you think any ordinary person can do their jobs without feedback?
    If you look at the engineering profession, where failure is more difficult to hide than in other areas of human endeavour, engineers seek to improve the quality of their work by using more and more internal criticism, from design reviews to formal testing by outside experts.
    And it’s not just engineers, it’s hard to imagine the hard sciences advancing as far as they did were it not for their system of peer review (not just in the sense of the formal journal process before publication, but after publiccation too), medical doctors have their mortality reviews after deaths, even when I worked at a supermarket as a check-out chick the job included feedback about how fast I was serving customers and how accurately I was making change – they had installed software to monitor this.

    And I think part of the reason why democracy works better than other political systems is that, if nothing else, being voted out is a correction on the system.

    Therefore I don’t understand your refusal to criticise politicans for writing bad laws. If we all adopted your proposal that this is the best that can be expected of them, what incentive would they have to improve?

    Thank you again for participating in my growing up process.

  15. I don’t have any against the criticism of politicians and if I did, what would it matter?

    But criticism may, at most, bias a representative to one course of action versus another. As feedback criticism is of doubtful value since it’s so indeterminate. Everybody’s got an opinion and politicians are the natural gravitational body for opinions they being among the few in society whose opinions may change society.

    The determinative feedback is the election process – a politician may or may not choose to heed criticism but in a representative form of government they don’t have the option of ignoring the results of an election.

    And since this thread’s rolled off the bottom of Joann’s blog I’m probably just writing this to please myself.

  16. But this is a different situation, in that the British Government itself, once it realised it wrote this law, is now trying to backpedal from it. This to me looks very much like what happens when an engineer plugs in an expensively-made new design, flicks on the on-switch, and smoke starts coming out (and the design objective was not to produce a smoke generator). The problem in this case is not differing opinions about what law should do, the problem is that the law as written did not achieve the government’s objectives. To put it in engineering management terminology, it’s a verification not a validation problem.

    I think elections are a vital discipline, but a vote is a blunt tool for conveying information.

  17. Yes, parliament or the legislature passed the stupid law and the bureaucrats must follow it. OTOH, most of the time the legislators did not write the law by themselves – the agency it covers always has considerable input, and quite often wrote the legislation and passed it on to a compliant legislator.

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