Issuing antisocial behaviour orders has fast become an easy way
for local authorities to earn the government’s praise.
But while the number of Asbos may be seen as a controversial
benchmark of success, social care professionals are particularly
concerned by an explosion of unenforceable and unworkable
Last week, a judge commissioned a full investigation into the
case of an 18-year-old who was banned from having a drinking glass
in public and handed a five-year curfew.
Other cases include a 23-year-old suicidal woman who was banned
from going near railway lines, rivers, bridges and multi-storey car
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of probation service
union Napo and a member of the pressure group Asbo Concern, says:
“Asbos are being used outrageously against people receiving care in
the community. It is time the Home Office thoroughly reviewed the
role and purpose of the Asbo and sentencing discrepancies.”
Last week, the House of Commons home affairs select committee
called on the Home Office to review the extent of unworkable,
“inappropriate” Asbos and the reasons for them.
The committee blamed a lack of co-ordination between agencies as
one of the “probable” reasons.
It said the cases highlighted “the absolute need for all the
relevant agencies to be involved in the response to antisocial
But MPs reserved their most damning criticism for social
services, child mental health services and youth organisations for
rejecting antisocial behaviour strategies as “too punitive”.
The committee blamed organisations for “foregoing” the chance to
influence how the strategy was carried out locally. It also claimed
that social services were not working in the “best interests” of
young people likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour by
failing to fund enough support projects.
Now, social care workers who are critical of Asbos are faced
with a dilemma, organisations say.
Ruth Cartwright, professional officer for the British Association
of Social Workers, warns that refusing to work with the policy
could result in the issue of more Asbos.
She says: “Despite the flaws in antisocial behaviour
legislation, it’s time to be pragmatic. We must seek to ameliorate
the effects of these policies and put the welfare of the service
user at the heart of it.”
Cartwright warns that, unless social workers become more
involved in Asbo decisions, the number of inappropriate
applications – and resulting appeals against conditions – will
spiral out of control.
She says: “A lot of people in social services think Asbos are
nothing to do with their work, and they are not being given a steer
by council leaders. While there are contesting priorities, there
needs to be more focus on Asbo cases.”
John Coughlan, Association of Directors of Social Services’
spokesman on children and families, says social care workers are
faced with the difficult task of being “quasi-carer, quasi-police”
when it comes to antisocial behaviour.
“The reason why some workers are not taking out Asbos is that
they are looking at other ways to deal with antisocial behaviour,”
Coughlan says. “The evidence base of Asbos is dubious, and it is a
reactive policy applied with gross inconsistencies.”
Social care professionals have also been wary of sharing
information on service users in Asbo cases due to a lack of
guidance over protocols outlined under the Crime and Disorder Act
1998, according to evidence submitted to the home affairs select
Neil Pilkington, principal solicitor at the community safety
unit at Salford Council, told MPs that this had led to a “black
hole” in information concerning service users, particularly those
with mental health problems.
Given the dilemmas, Cartwright’s message of pragmatism may have
some way to travel, as some workers are choosing to tackle
antisocial behaviour in ways more palatable to their beliefs.
One housing worker from Camden Council, north London, which
issues the highest number of Asbos in the capital, says: “When I am
set targets for Asbos, I ignore them and try to help service users
at risk of Asbos in another way.
She adds: “Workers who hate orders don’t want to carry them