Youth Comment – James Roberts

Young people in Leeds have hit back against the unfair use of antisocial behaviour orders

Since being introduced in 1999, a total of 6,497 antisocial behaviour orders have been handed out in England and Wales. When you consider that it costs £5,000 to hand out and enforce each Asbo, seven years down the line the government has spent a massive £32.5m enforcing this policy.

But despite this cost, the government’s recent “Respect Agenda” suggests that it intends to hand out more and more of these orders in an attempt to continue to cover up the root causes of antisocial behaviour and to scapegoat young people.

In nine years of Labour government we have seen wave after wave of privatisation. Labour has pushed forward with the Tory policy of selling off council housing, and is now setting its sights on education. As part of this drive to privatise, we’ve seen youth clubs and council sport centres sold off. As a result, young people are forced on to the streets in their spare time. And to hide the crime of privatisation, Asbos are used to blame young people for the government’s mess.

Leeds and Bradford have been pioneer cities in the privatisation of public services. Is it any coincidence, then, that West Yorkshire is one of the most “Asbo-ed” areas in the UK? In Leeds city centre, many young people spend their Saturdays meeting and hanging around with friends in front of the Corn Exchange shopping centre. Recently, there were plans to introduce a “city centre dispersal order”, under which groups of more than three under-18s could have been broken up and told not to return for 24 hours or face an Asbo or electronic tag. This saw young people at the Corn Exchange being harassed, surveyed and manhandled by police as they tried to “gather evidence” of non-existent antisocial behaviour to justify the order.

But the young people fought back tooth and nail. A series of stunts and leafl eting sessions led up to a loud and militant march on Leeds central police station and, within a week, the plans for the order were withdrawn.

This resistance needs to spread, supported by trade unionists and anti-privatisation campaigners.

Asbos do not deal with antisocial behaviour, but seek to overplay it and sweep its causes under the carpet.

James Roberts, 19, is an anti-asbo campaigner and member of youth socialist organisation Revolution;

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