Thinker's Corner

Child Impact Statements 1997/98 (National Children's Bureau, 8 Wakley Street, London EC1V 7QE, 0171-278 9512), by Rachel Hodgkin, assesses a unique experiment which, for the very first time, put children's needs right at the heart of government policy-making. In the early months of 1998, every single government bill passing through parliament was scrutinised to see whether it promoted or threatened the interests of this disenfranchised group. These "child impact statements", as they are known, describe with undisguised passion how policy and legislation ought to be framed for children. Overall, the government is awarded a "could do better" grade. Hodgkin wants to see the project repeated, but one is left with the impression that the most effective way forward for promoting the interests of the young lies in the appointment of a Children's Rights Commissioner.

Courting Mistrust (Centre for Policy Studies, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL, £7.50), by Frank Furedi, argues that, while we have looked askance at the famously litigious Americans, the culture of compensation has been infecting Britain, too. Back in the 1970s, individuals who had suffered an injury or were the victims of crime did not automatically seek financial redress. Today, clients unhappy with a haircut sue their barbers - we have become a nation of professional complainers. This explosion of litigation over the past 15 years has, not surprisingly, coincided with a doubling in the number of barristers and solicitors in England and Wales. For, as Furedi points out, the only gainers in this headlong rush to the courts are the lawyers. But his call for changes in the law to stop the beast in its tracks strike one as unrealistic. For too long, the individual has been powerless to fight the faceless corporation. Now the freedom to do so is there, enshrined in the law, and it will not be lightly relinquished.

This article first appeared in the 17 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - A culture of pretence