Monday, November 06, 2006

The causes of crime

Jackie Ashley, writing in the Guardian today, attacks the government for playing politics with the issue of crime by scaring the public. Instead of attacking Cameron for wanting to 'hug a hoodie', she suggests that government ministers should explain that crime is falling and that what is needed is more rehabilitation and fewer people in prison.

The idea that people wouldn't be worried about crime if the government didn't spend so much time talking about it is not remotely convincing - people get their views on crime from the telly, newspapers and personal conversations and experience, not from Home Office ministers. Then there is the incoherence of complaining that the government's policies and priorities are motivated by politics rather than doing the right thing, and that instead the government should explain how these policies have been successful in, errm, reducing crime.

The problem with this argument is that it starts from the premise that most people are ill-informed and misguided and that the government should stop 'pandering' to them. I can't see the sense in this approach - Labour politicians already spend too much time quoting statistics and appearing out of touch with people's day to day experiences, and this can't be the way to persuade people to support a major shift in criminal justice policy.

For all the talk of young people being demonised and being objects of fear and hatred to many older people, I have always found massive support for any proposals to provide more for young people to do. This is actually an obvious example of a problem caused by market failure. For instance during school holidays, children of rich parents have lots of options about what to do, whereas young people living in more deprived areas often have nothing to do and are bored. When I was working on the council's budget late last year, I found that it costs about £5,000 for a week's worth of high quality holiday activities for young people in a ward. Many families can't afford to pay the full costs of the private companies who run these activities, but for a local council the cost is relatively small. Labour councillors voted through spending of about £500,000 over three years to run playschemes through the Easter and Summer holidays in some of the more deprived areas of Oxford, as well as another £300,000 to make access to the council's swimming pools free for under 17's (against Lib Dem opposition, naturally).

The activities were popular with young people, with parents and with older people who had been most affected by anti-social behaviour. The police reported a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour - providing fun stuff for young people to do does help cut crime just like we thought. But running these activities also showed how much unmet need there was, and how much more could and should be done.

What this taught me is firstly that giving young people something fun to do is a vital part of cutting crime and anti-social behaviour, and that it is something that people will support. To do it properly, though, requires a vast increase in spending on youth services, and because this is money which would go to working-class young people, the Lib Dems and Tories won't ever support it. So when the Queen's Speech announces a whole load of new crime bills, let's hope at least one is about a massive expansion of providing things which young people find fun to do. And once people can see how Labour's policies have helped cut crime in their area significantly, then they might trust us if we explain about the need to reduce the number of people in prison.


At 2:25 pm , Anonymous David Duff said...

I have no interest in assisting you with your enquiries into policies on crime and punishment given that in the last ten years your wretched party has made matters worse and not better; and please don't insult my intelligence by quoting the most hooky stats since the Enron P&L accounts, the crime statistics (add your birthday and subtract Sir Ian Blair's salary); but in the spirit of generosity with which I am famed the length and breadth of my study, allow me to advise you that if you study carefully anything proposed by Ms. Jackie Ashley and then do the exact opposite you will not go too far wrong.


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