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.

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Mumslink shows how online parenting networks are coming of age

Women online are changing the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. 

The habit of “speaking as a mother” came in for its fair share of criticism this summer. Andrea Leadsom’s insinuation of superiority over Theresa May, her rival for the Tory leadership, elicited widespread scorn – not least from those who have done most to strengthen the voice of mothers as a group: internet mums.

Over the past 15 years, the ten million users a month who log on to Mumsnet have been courted by politicians in webchats and speeches alike. The 2010 general election was even named “the Mumsnet election” in their honour.

From the start, parenting networks attracted users interested in comradeship, as much as those after information. 

For Jo Williamson, a mother-of-two, the trigger was the day her second child left for school, a jarring experience. “I went into a blind panic, thinking: ‘Blimey, I’m going to be sitting in an empty house just waiting for everybody to come back.’” In response, Jo and her business partner Jane Pickard came up with the idea for a new site that focuses on the fluid nature of many women’s professional and family lives.

The resulting network, Mumslink, uses carefully edited news feeds to introduce readers to ideas, businesses and charities that complement all aspects of their lives – from recipe tips to volunteering. “There are so many women out there with a plethora of talents but most of the time, because you’re with your children, nobody asks you to get involved,” Williamson says.

Similar feelings of isolation led Siobhan Freegard to found Netmums, one of the UK’s largest parenting sites. Back in 2000, she had barely heard of “social networks”, nor of Mumsnet, which launched around the same time, yet she knew that mothers needed a place “to share their stories and maybe meet up in the offline world, too”.

Such identity-building led to divisions over “the right way” to be a mother. A tense rivalry developed between the slightly younger Netmums and the more educated and affluent Mumsnetters (Tesco and Waitrose didn’t sponsor different networks for nothing). Within the sites’ pages, differences of opinion over working v stay-at-home parenting sparked allegations of hostility and bullying. Still, the media researcher Sarah Pedersen says there’s an argument that these sites have helped produce a reduction in depression and anxiety, as well as greater opportunities for women to negotiate “the tension between themselves and their role as mothers”.

There are signs that this online culture is growing up. The perception of mums as “a bit insular and thick” is more easily countered, says Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, “now that so many mothers are able to express their individuality, their interests and their expertise in the public domain”.

According to Freegard, the very act of online sharing has helped begin to repair the rifts within the parenting debate. “With social media, we see working mums and part-time mums, and we see mums changing roles as their children change ages, and we understand that there are different angles to things – that everyone has their story.”

This is more pronounced in the world of video blogging, Freegard says. On her YouTube channel, Channel Mum, people talk calmly about controversial subjects that would have been a “bloodbath” on Netmums, such as ear piercing for very young children. “With video, you can see the person in real life and that helps you feel for their story,” she says.

Perhaps the greatest effect, however, has been on how the internet allows parents to work from home. As many as 160,000 part-time ventures have been started by British women in the past two years alone, self-styled kitchen-table start-ups. Sites such as Mumslink (similarly funded by Williamson and Pickard and run out of the former’s front room in Hertfordshire) aim to help this home-based workforce with new clients. One Mumslinker visits the site to write about her own line of natural nail varnish, another to promote her hot-tub business. The company Digital Mums uses it to encourage women to expand their digital skills.

Commercial savvy is something that Freegard is also keen to develop at Channel Mum – equipping her contributors with financial advice and small stipends. “I remember looking at mummy bloggers and thinking, ‘You guys didn’t get properly organised,’” she says. Freegard points out that most early mum bloggers never grew their audience beyond those already involved in parenting online, and struggled to become more professional as a result.

Quite what the future relationships will be between the brands, businesses and audiences for information on parenting has yet to be established. Some users will baulk at being increasingly cast in the role of consumer. At the same time, the networks’ names – Mumsnet, Netmums, Mumslink, Channel Mum – suggest that parenting is still a woman’s domain.

Yet a better balance seems to be emerging in the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. Greater gender equality in the distribution of start-up funding, more job vacancies that allow flexible working, and increasing numbers of prominent women in the tech industry are just some of the things the community is striving to promote. In Britain, which has an ageing population and an ever-growing community of carers, the rise of these networks seems sure to be a net gain for us all. 

For more, visit: mumslink.com

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser