Enforcement measures winning bat tle for resources

    Tackling antisocial behaviour is one of the government’s pet
    policies. But while ministers claim that prevention must go hand in
    hand with enforcement, a growing body of evidence suggests the
    rhetoric is far from the reality.

    Many local authority figures and social care commentators say that
    resources are slanted towards enforcement and away from addressing
    the causes of antisocial behaviour.

    The government’s budget for the Antisocial Behaviour Unit gives
    weight to these criticisms.

    Out of a total £24m for 2004-5, just £300,000 – the
    lowest amount – was earmarked for parenting projects, compared with
    more than £9m for Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships,
    £3m for environmental crime, and over £1m to fund
    antisocial behaviour prosecutors.

    Home Office minister Hazel Blears admitted to the Home Affairs
    select committee last week that resources for prevention work were
    “limited”. She suggested more pressure could be put on local
    authorities to divert funding to this area.

    But Anne Williams, co-chair of the Association of Directors of
    Social Services resources committee, says prevention work is a
    “challenging” issue for local authorities due to “upward pressure”
    on children and families services.

    “Young people who are, or are at risk of, behaving antisocially
    need intensive case management – but there is so little of this
    because of funding problems,” she says. “There is still widespread
    overspending on children and families budgets.”

    Young people targeted under antisocial behaviour laws are left in a
    “limbo” because they don’t “hit the threshold” of child protection
    or looked-after children despite needing help, Williams adds.

    She also pinpoints the knock-on effect on prevention work of cuts
    in the Supporting People budget.

    The Local Government Association agrees, insisting the reduction in
    the Supporting People budget and the low level of funding for
    children’s social services “only add to an increased risk of
    antisocial behaviour among young people”.

    Stuart Douglass, community safety adviser at the LGA, adds that
    many authorities are also concerned that they do not directly
    recoup savings from investment in antisocial behaviour enforcement,
    prevention and rehabilitation.

    “While there are wider perceived benefits for society, the money
    may not be reinvested directly back into the council,” he
    says.
    It is up to each of the 360 crime reduction partnership areas
    across the UK to decide how to spend its £25,000 share of the
    £9m from the Antisocial Behaviour Unit’s budget.

    Blears said last week that the council should “listen to the
    community” on how money for antisocial behaviour should be
    spent.

    But one local government source warns some local councillors bow
    “too easily” to their constituents’ complaints about antisocial
    behaviour. “Politically motivated members don’t want to talk about
    prevention,” he says.

    In Manchester, political motivation is certainly a driving force
    for high levels of enforcement.

    Latest government figures reveal Manchester Council has issued the
    highest number of Asbos in Britain – 608 between April 1999 and
    September 2004 – despite also investing in prevention work with
    “problematic” families, families at risk of eviction and disputing
    neighbours.

    “It’s a political decision,” the spokesman says. “Members listen to
    their constituents. The number of Asbos does not show we have a
    bigger problem than anywhere else in the country – we simply take
    more action.”

    As long as political motivation dictates what the LGA calls the
    “undue” emphasis on enforcement, councils will fail to redress the
    balance towards prevention without greater incentives.

    Douglass believes new performance indicators on prevention should
    be introduced.

    Williams from the ADSS agrees: “An Asbo should not be an end in
    itself as a measure of a local authority’s performance. We need
    smarter measures based on prevention, with actual outcomes in
    neighbourhoods where people can be diverted in to a more productive
    life.”

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