NSPCC smacking survey should be taken with a pinch of salt

Last month, NSPCC released a survey claiming that just over half of respondents support a change in the law to ban smacking.

But how accurate is this claim?

In short: not very. And here’s why.

Firstly, the polling asks: “Would you support or oppose changing the law in England to end the use of physical punishment on children?”. But the 3,559 adults surveyed between 25th and 28th January 2024 were not told what the current law is.

But how can they be so sure that the law needs changing if they don’t know what the current law is?

And the use of the term ‘physical punishment’ is misleading. A recent report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) includes abusive practices, akin to hitting a child with an implement or leaving scarring and worse, as ‘physical punishment’. But ‘physical punishment’ is not the same as ‘smacking’.

Thankfully, the law in England already outlaws abuse. The current law only allows parents to use ‘reasonable chastisement’, which in practice is nothing more than a light tap on the back of the hand or leg. Only what the courts consider to be reasonable is permitted. How many people would really think that should change?

Reasonable chastisement

Anything which leaves more than a temporary redding of the skin is not protected by the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence.

Yet activists seem content to distort the legal reality by trying to convince the public that banning smacking is somehow protecting children from abuse. But it’s not.

Another interesting statistic worth noting in this NSPCC polling is that only 35% of respondents believe it is “always unacceptable for a parent to use physical punishment on their child”.

That means the majority of people believe there are times when physical punishment is acceptable. Perhaps they think there are only rare instances when it is right to smack, but that is perfectly in line with the law as it stands.

Misleading news stories

News reports stated that 52% of survey respondents support a smacking ban, “up from 50 per cent in 2023”.

Activists like to claim that support for a smacking ban is on an upward trajectory, but YouGov’s other smacking ban polling has consistently shown the opposite result.

YouGov’s opinion tracker, which has traced public opinion on the smacking law every month since 2019, shows that a majority believe smacking should not be illegal. The latest result from 2nd June 2024 reveals that the majority believe it should be legal for parents to smack their children.

In this case, a description of the current law is explained in the survey question. It states: “The present law states that parents are allowed to carry out “reasonable chastisement” in smacking their children, as long as they don’t cause any injury such as bruising. Do you think it should or should not be legal for parents to smack their children?”

When told what the current law is, only 35% thought “it should not be legal for parents to smack their children”.

A separate YouGov poll of 3,833 GB adults published on 19 April 2024, similarly showed only 30% of respondents think smacking should ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ be a criminal offence.

On the contrary, 60% of respondents said they believed parents smacking their children “probably” or “definitely” should not be a criminal offence.

Be Reasonable spokesman, Simon Calvert, said: “The law protects children from abuse. The reasonable chastisement defence only applies where parents do something reasonable like tap a tot on the back of the hand.”