Blunkett’s plans to get tough run into disapproval from charities

Despite home secretary David Blunkett’s attempts to silence
critics of his plans to tackle anti-social behaviour, charities and
social care organisations remain defiant.

While Blunkett’s measures, outlined in the antisocial behaviour
bill, centre around enforcement and punishment, campaigners are
calling for more focus on early intervention and tackling the
causes of crime.

The launch of an action plan last week encouraging front-line
workers to use powers due to be given to them under the bill has
added fuel to the fire (news, page 9, 16 October).

Lisa Payne, principal policy officer at children’s charity NCB,
would like to see ministers get rid of the bill altogether, arguing
that it either duplicates legislation that already exists – much of
which is not used – or makes it tougher.

“We don’t see the bill as necessary,” she says. Instead, Payne
would like the government to provide young people with places to go
and free activities near their homes. She adds that NCB research
has found that young people themselves want these facilities and
feel unsafe out on the street. She also highlights the need for
increased affordable and accessible transport, and more family
group conferencing.

Although the action plan states that lessons should be learned from
areas tackling antisocial behaviour effectively, many campaigners
feel that much of their successful work is being ignored in favour
of a more heavy-handed approach.

Crime reduction charity Nacro runs more than 50 youth activity and
inclusion projects across England, working with at least 15,000
children and young people. “Working in partnership with local
communities and statutory bodies, we have a track record of keeping
kids away from trouble by providing opportunities for involvement
in positive and enjoyable activities,” a Nacro spokesperson

Nacro projects include the provision of support on problem estates
in the Midlands by the charity’s housing directorate. This involves
staff making visits to vulnerable residents and providing support
with anything from debt management to liaising with schools. The
charity claims these interventions are successful and doubts the
effectiveness of punitive measures.

Sharon Moore, policy manager at The Children’s Society, agrees that
providing young people with somewhere to go and something
constructive to do is a key issue. She highlights the popularity of
government-funded youth inclusion projects that target 50 young
people aged 8-13 seen to be in the most danger of getting into
trouble in certain areas, with attendees often asking whether their
friends can come along. “We would like to see schemes that all
children can access,” she says.

At the launch of the plan, and in a move to put the onus back on
councils, Blunkett said that all public sector staff with a
responsibility for tackling antisocial behaviour who failed to do
so should be sacked.

Under the bill, head teachers, education welfare officers and
education social workers will be able to fine the parents of
children who persistently play truant. John Dunford, general
secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, believes that issuing
fines is inappropriate for these professionals because they have a
continuing relationship with pupils and parents and fining them
would make it more difficult to encourage the children back to

Dunford describes Blunkett’s comments as particularly unhelpful.
“We accept that it’s part of the job of being a teacher to help
young people in the difficult business of growing up, and this
takes teachers’ responsibilities beyond the academic role into the
pastoral role. But we don’t accept any threat from David Blunkett
along those lines.”

Action plan measures

  • £22m to strengthen crime reduction partnerships’ responses
    to antisocial behaviour, from the £75m announced in April to
    help councils and communities tackle antisocial behaviour.
  • Ten “trailblazers” to tackle antisocial behaviour such as
    begging, nuisance neighbours and environmental crime.
  • Team of 10 specialist prosecutors to work with local
    communities to allow fast prosecution of antisocial behaviour
  • New sentencing guidelines for magistrates dealing with
    antisocial behaviour offences, to ensure appropriate and consistent
    punishments across England and Wales.

New powers for professionals:

  • Powers for local education authority officers, head teachers,
    the police, education social workers and education welfare officers
    to issue fines of up to £100 to parents of persistent truants
    as an alternative to prosecution.
  • Powers for LEAs to issue parenting contracts and seek parenting
    orders for parents of children who have been excluded from
  • Powers for youth offending teams to issue parenting contracts
    and seek parenting orders for those whose children carry out
    criminal or antisocial behaviour.
  • Police powers to disperse groups of youths and take home young
    children at night.

Preventing eviction

The Dundee Families project run by children’s charity NCH for
Dundee Council provides support to homeless families or those
facing eviction as a result of antisocial behaviour and aims to
restore them to satisfactory tenancy arrangements.

It uses outreach work, residential accommodation with intensive
support on a 24-hour basis, and other accommodation providing a
lower level of support. Families will often move from one level of
support to the other until they show they can successfully live in
the community and the tenancy of the accommodation is transferred
to them.

The project is highlighted in the antisocial behaviour white paper
that preceded the bill as an example of good practice.

However, George McNamara, public policy officer at the charity,
says that several local authorities have told NCH that they are
keen on replicating the project in their areas but cannot gain

In fact, the first “replica” is only now getting off the ground in
Manchester, seven years after the Dundee Families project was set

“The government needs more of a rounded policy approach with a
better balance towards effective prevention,” he says. “The bill
gives local authorities a lot of tough measures but it is very
difficult for them to get resources in terms of preventive

Children’s charity NCB said the tough measures should only be a
last resort.

Begging mission

Camden, north London, is one of 10 “trailblazer” areas tackling
antisocial behaviour. The borough is tasked with significantly
reducing begging by 2005.

As a trailblazer, it will receive £100,000 each year for three
years from the Home Office. The council is taking a two-pronged
approach to tackling begging, offering immediate housing and drug
treatment to homeless drug users, while also issuing antisocial
behaviour orders (Asbos) banning those who refuse help.

Leader of the council Jane Roberts says that the “lion’s share” of
the money spent tackling begging will be used to provide support
and that Asbos will only be used as a “last resort”. She argues
that she has seen proof that making people go into drug treatment
can be beneficial.

But a spokesperson for human rights organisation Liberty disagrees.
“Forcing someone into rehabilitation simply does not work.”

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