‘Overzealous’ Church Vets 58,000 Workers In A Year

In a lovely Boxing Day article The Telegraph asks if the Church of England is DBS checking too many workers. Actually it doesn’t really ask that, it just raises its eyebrows at some quotes and figures from a press-release by the Manifesto Club an organisation devoted to reducing hyper-regulation that I hadn’t heard of before either. The argument is; gosh 58,000 people vetted in twelve months is a lot of people right? That’s surely ridiculously high; wouldn’t it be better (and more Christian) if they vetted less people?

Now, I’m not one to argue in favour of more government legislation, and heaven knows I’ve complained about people assuming that because they’ve done a DBS check they’ve recruited safely, but this article is pure clap-trap.

Is 58,000 people a large figure? Well, it looks big doesn’t it. I mean, five numbers in a row is a lot! If I had that much of something I’d consider myself very well off for that thing. Unless it was something like seconds left to live, in which case it’s now a very small number (just over two and a half days). The point being, unless we compare that numbers with other numbers, we have no clue whatsoever what to think about it. It strikes me that the actual numbers we want are; how many people are vetted in Church of England, and is that a reasonably low percentage of the population of the church? So let’s break down the numbers we have a bit and see if we can answer that.

Of those 58,000 people, only 22,235 were checks done directly by the 25 dioceses who returned information (The rest were done by other agencies linked to the Church of England). To give us a figure we can use to compare, we’re going to scale that up as the Telegraph does to 37,000 people (which is bad statistics, but we’ll have to embrace it)[1]. Now, the Church of England has around 1,206,000 people on all the parochial rolls put together and a usual sunday attendance of 807,500 people. So we could say, very very roughly, that between 3% and 4.5% of people attending church were vetted in the last year. But that’s not a helpful figure in finding out how many people have been vetted, because most people are only vetted when they start working or volunteering and maybe again at three years. And some people obviously bring DBS checks with them from other organisations. So the figure of people in a church who have a DBS check could be higher than that. But then, a diocese doesn’t only run DBS checks for workers in a church. Some dioceses also do the DBS checks for staff at church schools, for the uniformed organisations churches host, and for homeless charities that operate out of the building. So if they check 37,000 people a year, how many of those are church workers, and how many volunteers at the local primary school?

So what is it actually? How many people are DBS checked in a church? I have no idea, given how ropey some of the statistics are in this article, and how little we know, I can confidently say I wouldn’t want to guess. Maybe it’s as low as 2%? Maybe it’s as high as 20%? We have no clue. I’ll ask around and do some digging and come up with a better figure if the data is there and available. So is 58,000 people checked a high figure? As the magic 8-ball says; Reply hazy try again.

Perhaps the most telling thing from the Telegraph article is the only person that they can find for a quote who can at least express some moderate surprise about all this is the Gloucester Cathedral flower arranger who quit over being forced to do a CRB check in 2010. I’m sure there are others who the church has over-zealously, unnecessarily asked for DBS checks in the last three years, but they don’t seem to be that common. Maybe what we can take from the article is this; The Church of England does a lot of work with children and vulnerable adults. And it has a lot of volunteers. And, as it’s legally required to do, it runs checks on them to make sure they’re not barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. That’s hardly grounds to complain is it?

1 They only have data from 25 out of the 42 dioceses. They scale it up in the article to be around 37,000 checks done by dioceses directly. Seeing as the population of a diocese varies massively (the Diocese of London contains a population of 4 million people, has 413 parishes and of 2011 has a usual Sunday attendance of 57,900 people (Source) whereas Sodor and Man (the Western Islands off England and Scotland) contains a population of 85,000 people, has 28 parishes and as of 2011 had a usual Sunday attendance of 1,300) without knowing which dioceses responded, scaling up has a massive margin for error. But we’ve got to scale it up to 100% of the dioceses of we don’t have much to compare it with. For the purposes of this article, I think we can get away with it.