The Scottish author and poet Andrew Lang once compared a man’s reliance on statistics to that of a drunk’s reliance on lamp-posts – both being “for support rather than for illumination”.
Two hundred years on and fellow Scot John Reid and others appear to be doing their level best to illustrate Lang’s point by justifying ongoing efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour with little more than a list of numbers.
The report marking the first anniversary of the Respect Action Plan hails the new statistics that show how extra powers are being used increasingly across the country. It does not, however, reveal anything about their impact.
The need for more evidence on the effectiveness of the new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour is a clear message that comes out of Camden Council’s review of its own approach to antisocial behaviour.
Camden’s report reveals that, despite its reputation for its work in tackling antisocial behaviour, its efforts have failed to reduce fear of crime locally. It also reveals mixed results in terms of changing behaviour and improving life chances of the recipients of antisocial behaviour orders.
The case for more long-term research is even more compelling given growing concerns that antisocial powers are having a disproportionate impact on already disadvantaged groups, including people from ethnic minorities and those with mental health problems.
Until such time that supporting evidence is available, the government must steer clear of equating the greater use of punitive powers with success.
Camden Council’s research and the government’s own Respect handbook suggest that interventions are most effective when they are part of a tiered approach. This best practice message must not be forgotten when local area agreement targets on outcomes for tackling antisocial behaviour come into force in April.