Crime: Home Secretary's speech on moving beyond the ASBO, 28 July 2010
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
This speech was delivered at the Coin Street Community Centre in London on 28 July 2010. The text here is as written, not as delivered.
It’s appropriate, I think, that we are here in the Coin Street Community Centre - a real beacon of community action and the same place that David Cameron has previously set out our plans to strengthen our local communities.
Because there is nowhere - not any single area of government policy - where we need strong, local community action more than in tackling anti-social behaviour.
History of ASB
Some people seem to believe anti-social behaviour is just a bit of a nuisance - a fact of modern life - but I believe it is time for us to stop tolerating it. Anti-social behaviour ruins neighbourhoods and can escalate into serious criminality, destroying good people’s lives.
People like Helen’s husband, Garry Newlove, who was attacked and brutally murdered after having the courage to confront a group of drunken vandals.
People like Fiona Pilkington, who was terrorised and tormented by a gang of youths for many years, crying out for help on no fewer than 33 occasions before, finally, she could take no more.
But behind those horrific headlines are the many thousands of others whose everyday lives are blighted by anti-social behaviour.
Around one person in every seven believes their local area suffers from high-levels of anti-social behaviour.
And as well as the millions of tarnished lives, the financial cost of dealing with anti-social behaviour is estimated at billions of pounds a year.
We also know anti-social behaviour can be a precursor to more serious offending - over a quarter of young people who reported committing anti-social behaviour in one year started to offend the very next.
On top of all that, many people do not even report anti-social behaviour - we think around three-quarters goes unreported. The evidence suggests that this is because they are so confident that the state will not deal with their problem that they don’t even bother with the phone call.
But even after adding in all those unreported incidents, the very real picture of huge variations between local areas is still masked. Over one in four people in the most deprived areas perceive a high level of anti-social behaviour, nearly five times higher than the level in the most affluent.
Because fundamentally, anti-social behaviour is an extremely localised issue - down to some streets in a neighbourhood having a problem, where the next street along does not.
Of course, with such an obvious problem even the last government could not ignore it.
They knew they had to do something, but as with so much they did, their top-down, bureaucratic, gimmick-laden approach just got in the way of the police, other professionals and the people themselves from taking action.
Such a centralised approach, imposed from Whitehall, can never be the best way to deal with an inherently local problem.
Rather than part of the solution, the previous government’s focus on anti-social behaviour became part of the problem.
The multitude of central government initiatives and gimmicks meant that people expected the government to deal with these issues.
Too often, the top-down approach of the past meant that the police and the other agencies involved in tackling anti-social behaviour at local level took their cue from central government rather than the people they were meant to be serving.
It is not for central government to tell local police and local councils what to do - but people thought it was, because that’s exactly what the last government always did. The public started thinking “why is the government not doing something?” rather than thinking “what can I do?” They waited for the slow machine of the state to crank up and intervene, rather than getting on, getting out there and doing it themselves.
We need to re-establish that sense of personal and social responsibility.
We need to make anti-social behaviour what it once was - unusual, abnormal and something to stand up to - instead of what it has become - frequent, normal and tolerated.
To do this, the people who are closest to the problem need to be driving the solution. Not civil servants in Whitehall.
And success will not be measured by how much more money has been spent, how much media coverage has been generated or how many new and clever initiatives have been started.
Success will be measured by how successful we are at cutting crime and cutting anti-social behaviour - no more and no less.
Today I will set out how we can do that. We must turn the system on its head.
For 13 years, politicians told us that the government had the answer; that the ASBO was the silver bullet that would cure all society’s ills.
It wasn’t. Life is more complex than that.
There is no magic Whitehall lever we can pull simply to stop anti-social behaviour. No magic button to press or tap to turn to stop the flow of misery. The solution to your community’s problems will not come from officials sitting in the Home Office working on the latest national action plan. They will come from the homes of our citizens, from the heads of our police officers, council employees and housing associations, and from the hearts of our social workers.
We will put power into the hands of our citizens. We will put our trust into the professionals.
And we expect everybody to take responsibility, take action, get involved, tell the police and the other agencies what’s going on, and hold them to account for what they do about it.
In making this case, I’m not saying that there is no role for government. We’re not going to just walk away and leave you to it.
Of course the government has a role in galvanising the culture shift we need in this country to deal with anti-social behaviour.
That goes wider than just tackling the visible symptoms of what is, in reality, a much deeper social disease. It’s about dealing with some of the root causes.
It’s about dealing with worklessness and reforming welfare: there are 1.4 million young people under 25 who are not working or in full-time education. They want to make something of their lives, and we have to help them do so.
We will provide incentives for unemployed people to make work pay and we will create a Work Programme which will offer targeted, personalised help for those who need it most.
It’s about regaining discipline in our schools, putting teachers back in control of the classroom by stripping away the bureaucracy that far too often prevents them from maintaining good behaviour.
We will simplify and toughen up guidance and legislation so that teachers can ensure better behaviour and can create an environment where teachers can teach and children can learn.
And it’s about encouraging young people to take responsibility for their communities, which National Citizen Service will help do, inspiring an entire generation to appreciate what they can achieve.
We will provide around 10,000 young people from different backgrounds with places on residential courses next summer to develop life skills, understand the concept of civic responsibility and, we hope, reject anti-social behaviour and criminality.
These are just some of the measures in our programme for government that will help cure the ills affecting our country.
Alcohol and Licensing Reform
But there is one over-riding problem that contributes more to violent crime and anti-social behaviour than anything else.
Last year there were almost one million violent crimes that were alcohol-related and around half of all violent crime was considered alcohol-related by victims.
Nearly 7 million attendances at hospital accident and emergency services are estimated to be alcohol-related, at a cost of around 650 million pounds per year to the taxpayer.
More than a million ambulance call outs each year are estimated to be alcohol-related, at a cost of around 370 million pounds per year.
Overall, the total costs of alcohol-related crime and disorder to the taxpayer are estimated to be between 8 and 13 billion pounds per year.
When the last government relaxed our licensing laws, they promised us a continental-style cafe culture.
I was the Shadow Culture Secretary when Labour’s Licensing Act was being introduced. I said at the time that many people’s lives were going to be made a misery, especially those living near pubs. I told Parliament that Labour was being reckless, in pressing ahead with longer licensing hours without first dealing with the problems of binge drinking. I was accused of scare mongering then. I take no pleasure in being proved correct now.
Five years on, every Friday and Saturday night our police fight an ongoing battle against booze-fuelled crime and disorder, and our accident and emergency centres handle the casualties.
So we will overhaul the Licensing Act to ensure that local people have greater control over pubs, clubs and other licensed premises.
We will allow their local authority to charge more for late-night licences, which they will then be able to plough back into late-night policing in their area.
We will double the fine for under-age sales and allow authorities to permanently shut down any shop or bar that persistently sells alcohol to children.
We will ban the below cost sale of alcohol, to ensure that retailers no longer sell alcohol at irresponsible prices.
And responsibility for licensing will return from the Culture Department to the Home Office so we can join up licensing policy with policing the consequences of drink-fuelled disorder.
The Police’s Role
Licensing reform is an important part of the story. But our approach, unlike the last government’s, will be a coherent and comprehensive one.
Central to our new approach will be the police becoming a more responsive, active and accountable part of their local communities.
The police are often the first port of call for victims of anti-social behaviour.
But they have not always taken anti-social behaviour seriously enough.
For example, Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has found that the way many police forces record information on anti-social behaviour incidents was inadequate and limited their ability to identify repeat victims and vulnerable victims.
As a result, officers attending reports of anti-social behaviour are not always aware of the previous history. This is basic stuff, but it is vitally important.
The radical policing reforms I announced on Monday will help to build a strong new bridge between the police and the public.
The police should focus on what local people want, not on what politicians and civil servants in Westminster think they want.
So we will replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability.
Directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners will be democratically accountable to local people. They will make the police more responsive to local problems - or they’ll face the ultimate sanction of rejection at the ballot box.
They will be active advocates for local people, encouraging the police to deal with the anti-social behaviour that matters to them.
But more than that, their role as Police and Crime Commissioners will extend to working with others on community safety, and I expect that dealing with anti-social behaviour will be an important part of their work.
And we will help communities hold the police to account by publishing detailed local crime data and mandating regular beat meetings. And I’m keen to explore ways of recording incidents of anti-social behaviour at a local level too.
One story sums up the change we need to bring. Jan Berry’s report on reducing police bureaucracy tells us of a police officer who reduced crime and disorder on his local estate by 90% over six months. His thanks was simply a telling off for not meeting his own personal arrest targets. That is crazy, by anybody’s standards. But it happened because the police officer and his superiors were accountable not to the people they serve but the bureaucrats.
It’s crazy and it’s got to change. Police officers need to be trusted to use their discretion and professional judgement. We want them to think on their feet, judge each case on its merits and do what they believe is right.
Have no doubt, the police should back those who do the right thing and they should punish those who do the wrong thing. Anti-social behaviour - like crime - must always have consequences.
But too often with the old approach, sanctions were not followed through. Ineffective orders were issued, then breached. Fines were issued, but not enforced. People got away with it - and the victims knew it.
We want to ensure police officers have the discretion to deal with anti-social behaviour in the way they think will be most effective, both in meeting the needs of the victim and the community, and in changing the behaviour in question.
Where a police officer believes it would be better for a less serious wrong to be fixed with a more appropriate right - to repair the damage that has been caused or to carry out a positive community activity instead - and if the victim supports it, then we say to the police officer: use your judgement. That is how we will get common-sense policing.
And we need common sense too, if we are to have a simple, clear and effective sanctions regime.
Labour introduced a ludicrous list of powers for tackling anti-social behaviour - the ISO, the ASBI, the ASBO and the CRASBO. Crack house closure orders; dog control orders; graffiti removal orders, litter and noise abatement orders, housing injunctions and parenting orders. (And that’s not even all of them!)
These sanctions were too complex and bureaucratic - there were too many of them, they were too time consuming and expensive and they too often criminalised young people unnecessarily, acting as a conveyor belt to serious crime and prison.
On top of this, their use varies hugely from area to area, with practitioners tending to focus on the handful they are most familiar with.
And if the professionals don’t understand them, then how on earth are the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour supposed to understand them? No wonder they don’t act as a serious deterrent.
That is why I have launched a review of the anti-social behaviour powers available to the police. I am determined to give them and the other agencies a toolkit that is appropriate and effective; with tools that are quick, practical and easy to use.
Simpler sanctions, which are easier to obtain and to enforce, will provide the police and practitioners with a firm hand to tackle the problem cases.
Where possible, they should be rehabilitating and restorative, rather than criminalising and coercive. But where necessary, they should be tough and provide a real deterrent.
Just this morning, the latest ASBO statistics have shown that breach rates have yet again increased - more than half are breached at least once, 40% are breached more than once and their use has fallen yet again, to the lowest ever level.
It’s time to move beyond the ASBO.
We need a complete change in emphasis, with communities working with the police and other agencies to stop bad behaviour escalating that far.
Because tackling anti-social behaviour is not just something for the police alone; it is not all about crime.
Local authority workers; social landlords; health and education professionals; social services - they all need to work together, and to work with the police, to tackle anti-social behaviour in whatever form it takes.
Government has a role to play - sometimes that’s just by getting out of the way, simplifying the landscape, removing the bureaucratic barriers that prevent professionals from doing what works.
But government also has an active role to play. We need to help agencies join up more effectively, spreading good ideas like the Case Management system in Charnwood, Leicestershire, which allows agencies to pool information on anti-social behaviour incidents and victims, and manage cases collectively online. This gives them a much more accurate local picture and allows agencies to quickly identify vulnerable victims.
Or by encouraging the police and partners to work together to identify the victims at greatest risk, and prioritise action accordingly - as in Blackpool, where agencies recently found an elderly couple who after suffering noise, drunken behaviour and damage to their property, had reached such a level of despair that they felt that they had nothing left to live for. The same day, social care was mobilised to support the family and the police and local authority took immediate enforcement action against the perpetrators.
Or the idea in Birmingham of contracting the local Victim Support Service to support all victims of anti-social behaviour, as well as victims of crime, challenging the perception that anti-social behaviour is somehow less important or less harmful.
Or rolling out good ideas like using the non-emergency number 101 for anti-social behaviour calls, giving residents a single point of contact and cutting through the confusion. We will look for a cost-effective way to establish 101 as a single non-emergency number so it is easier to report crime and anti-social behaviour.
These are the sorts of schemes that we want to see more of and promote; generated from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down.
But crucially, we also want communities to come up with their own ideas of what they are going to do.
It’s not just the police, it’s not just social landlords, or councils - it’s the whole of society that needs to come together and work together to tackle anti-social behaviour.
Because fundamentally this is a local problem, and the answers to it can only come from local people who are close enough to understand the root causes.
They know what the problems are, so instead of coming from some policy wonk in Whitehall, the solutions need to come from within our communities themselves.
Communities like Bassetlaw, where volunteers in high-visibility jackets provide a visible focal point for joint work between agencies and the community to reduce anti-social behaviour.
Or communities like Thurrock, where Police Community Support Officers and the local authority have worked with the community to organise ‘walkaround’ days. These have got agencies out into the heart of their local communities to listen to what concerns residents and affects their quality of life; do something positive about it; then feedback what’s been done. Nearly 13 tons of rubbish have been removed and 71 sites of graffiti have been cleared so far.
Or they could come from individuals, like the lady in Exeter, who had her windows smashed and was threatened after complaining about loud music and drunkenness linked to a nearby pub. Based on the evidence gathered by her and her community, a successful review of the pub licence was carried out and the pub lease is now up for sale.
Or individuals like Joan Parrott, who is here today. For four years Joan and her family endured anti-social behaviour, including her son’s car being torched, until one day she decided to make a stand. She worked with the police and housing associations to ensure problems in her community were addressed. She knocked on doors and encouraged her neighbours to come forward and report anti-social behaviour. And she managed community safety events attended by hundreds of people. Now her fellow residents come to Joan for advice: people in her community have learned from her and no longer tolerate anti-social behaviour.
We will back those who step in when it is right to do so and we will support people so that they are willing and able to reclaim their communities, just as Joan did.
We don’t pretend we have got all of the solutions on day one. But I want to hear about more of the sorts of ideas I have just outlined. I want to tell communities up and down the land about the good work that is happening elsewhere and say to them: you can do it too.
Because we will only beat anti-social behaviour if we remember this: we are all in this together.
We need to give communities the power to bring about their own change; to build the town, the village, the city - the community - that you want.
We’ll help you to get involved; we’ll remove the barriers stopping you playing your part.
We will tackle the causes of anti-social behaviour - the family breakdown, the lack of opportunity and the booze culture.
We will give the authorities the right toolkit to get their jobs done.
And we’ll put power into your hands. You will be free to hold your police and your council to account.
Anti-social behaviour still blights lives, wrecks communities and provides a pathway to criminality.
It might sometimes feel like an unwinnable battle but it’s not.
There is nothing inevitable about crime and there is nothing inevitable about anti-social behaviour.
By coming together - and only by coming together - we can win this battle.