Falsely accused

It seems there are some in the housing world who think their colleagues in social care are too soft on antisocial behaviour. Social workers have been  accused of exhibiting “outdated attitudes” and of failing to embrace the new “tackling not tolerating” agenda.

Many social landlords, on the other hand, have embraced this new agenda with gusto and are much more in tune with the government’s increasingly hard line. Along with the courts they are resorting more and more to the use of the antisocial behaviour order as a key weapon in their armoury for combating “yob” culture, begging, nuisance neighbours and the like.

But are Asbos needed? And what evidence is there that they are working?

Cases have already come to light of children with autism threatened with Asbos, while such orders have been issued against alcoholics banning them from drinking and – in one reported case – a person with Tourette’s syndrome banning them from swearing. These and similar cases suggest society is not only becoming less tolerant of bad behaviour but also less likely to accept people who behave differently – or are just ill – as well.

Perhaps ambivalence over Asbos among social workers is due to fears that client groups such as those with mental illness or learning difficulties are likely to be disproportionately subject to them.

Another cause of concern is the lack of a common definition of what constitutes antisocial behaviour. Young people often bear the brunt of this inconsistency with some areas cracking down on “offences” that in other parts of the country are tolerated.

But perhaps the most pernicious effect of Asbos is the increase in young people now in custody not as a result of committing a crime but because of breaching an Asbo. That in itself is justification for taking an anti-Asbo line.

The Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group berates social workers for their reluctance to act as law enforcers. But wanting to address the root cause of antisocial behaviour does not make you a woolly liberal oblivious to its effects on the wider community. It might just mean you believe that engaging with those who commit antisocial behaviour and getting them to understand the consequences of their actions is more likely to encourage them to change their ways than alienating them altogether.

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