The issues surrounding youth crime

Who is best qualified to tackle this problem?

 

We all love the idea of local solutions when it comes to dealing with crime. The left love it: only this weekend the increasingly admirable Stella Creasy’s Mayoral Youth Crime Pledge got an excited response from community leaders. The right love it: this morning Nick Herbert performed a volte-face of relatively shocking proportions – or more likely felt now was the time to announce what he’d been thinking all along – writing an immaculately-balanced and impressively vague piece in the Guardian on the need for “programmes that are locally delivered, free from central micro-management, and specifically targeted.” Rather verbiose from the same man who has never before had much to say on the management of crime other than that it needs to be “cut”.
 
This morning I was in a youth centre talking to one of its workers – a lovely lady who’s lived in the area for over twenty years – when one of the kids started to kick up hell. There were two blokes there trying to calm him down, but he wasn’t listening to them. So she got up, walked over to him, and had a few quiet words. He sat down and started to do some work. I switched my recorder off and asked her to tell me his story.
 
He’s been kicked out of school because he’s a naughty boy. He has a girlfriend who keeps him in check, but he lives on an estate where kids are at war (described in the press as a gang feud – the reality, as so often, is far less exciting), so he keeps getting into fights. She began to find out some stuff about his family – she was able to, because she knows everyone who lives nearby – and realised that his dad was one of the biggest dealers in the local area. After spending a lot of time with the boy, he revealed that most nights he would beat him. That’s why he’s not scared of stern words from the guys in the community centre. So our youth worker talks to the mum about it – mother to mother. And the mother puts faith in her, and the child begins to trust her, and now she sees him at weekends, and sees him in the street, and even (bad practice, this) at home sometimes.
 
On the whole it’s working. He’s looking set to get ‘A’s and ‘B’s in his GCSEs. That’s what grassroots work does: it converts next week’s murderers – or victims – into this week’s respectable citizens.
 
Now the key thing about this work is that it’s usually this effective when the voluntary sector does it – because it requires a (horrendous phrase) holistic approach. And this is what Nick Herbert’s really complaining about in his Guardian piece – the drug outreach workers and youth offending services and all the other professionals that are employed by town halls all do good work, but there is a box ticking culture that addresses problems rather than people and that usually restricts them.
 
He says Labour invested too much faith in the state. He’s probably right – I remember voluntary workers complaining to me back in 2008 about the fact that they were operating at the beck and call of professionals in suits who would try to engage with people involved in crime, find that they lacked the credibility, and then call for help because they were getting nowhere and frankly weren’t prepared to work on this stuff after 5pm. But to a large extent it depended on the councils – some seemed to have a great bead on how to deploy the voluntary sector, others just chucked money at crime and hoped it went away.
 
There’s plenty of work for state and voluntary sectors. The problem is organising it effectively; it’s a muddle at a national level. Whose job are gangs? The answer is everyone’s: the Home Office (policing), CLG (town halls), DWP (who now appear to be taking the lead), Education, Health and probably several more. This shared responsibility is mirrored at a local level. And Labour tried to establish some kind of organisation through the Crime Reduction Programme, which flopped due to a lack of funding and lethargy among local partners who didn’t want to spend all their time recording data to justify their work to everyone else.
 
The biggest damage it caused was at a sentimental level – police and local authorities work together without central funding through MAPPAs and Community Safety Partnerships, but there is a diminished appetite. Boring things like information protocols – I’m a probation worker who knows about X, should I tell this boy’s school/doctor/housing authority about it – are an obstacle. Likewise, there’s a fear of buck passing which makes budget sharing difficult – e.g. this boy isn’t a youth offender, he’s disturbed, so mental health services can deal with him. The elected Police Commissioners are Herbert’s answer to these difficulties. The pros and cons of this scheme are another article entirely – but as this little survey shows, the issues run rather too deep for the policy to solve on its own.
Photo: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
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Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.