Police and crime commissioners must be champions of early intervention

PCCs can bring a strategic and long-term view to reducing crime.

"One thousand extra police officers would be great, but one thousand extra health visitors would be clever."

So says former head of homicide in Glasgow, John Carnochan. One of a new smarter breed of top cops. He knows that working with partners to stop crime before it happens is the future for policing. The new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) can be the midwife of this cultural change in policing from late intervention to early intervention.

The police will always have the tasks of reacting to crime and providing a presence in local communities to dampen the fear of crime. But to achieve the sustained prevention and reduction of crime requires a strategy which unites the police with all the agencies, whether public or private or third sector, which tackle the behaviours and lifestyles which generate anti-social behaviour and crime.

The best time to do this is in the first three years of life. This has been common sense wisdom for centuries, and it has been confirmed by a growing body of robust evidence. If a child acquires in the first three years of life a bedrock of basic social and emotional skills he or she has a better chance of making a success in the rest of life, of achieving at school and further education, and in work, in developing good physical and mental health, in finding or creating a stable household and making good lifestyle choices and, above all, in forming relationships and becoming a parent or carer for the next generation. For all of these reasons, a good start in the first three years of life is the best possible method of preventing future criminal behaviour. With the right evidence-based early intervention programmes, local communities can give all local babies and infants the best chance of getting that good start.

That was the central message of two reports I wrote for the government on early intervention. That is why I wrote to all police and crime commissioner candidates challenging them to adopt early intervention policies as their "unique selling point" in their relationship with the police. Instead of treading on operational toes, PCCs can bring a strategic and long-term view to reducing crime which police officers, victims and taxpayers will welcome.

PCCs will be perfectly positioned to build the strong partnerships with health, education and third sector and explore the role of evidenced based programmes, social finance and payment-by-results in reducing crime. We pioneered this approach with the police and other partners in developing Nottingham as the first "Early Intervention City". Here it was enlightened, forward-planning senior police officers who became the driving force of the new partnership.

The PCCs should follow in the footsteps of Sir Robert Peel who wisely put preventing crime first even ahead of catching offenders.  With the right early intervention policies, we can forestall many of the mental and social problems which are factors in generating anti-social behaviour and crime later in life.  Early intervention has the ability to break the cycle of dysfunction which can turn families into repeat offenders.  It can do this much more cheaply and reliably than intervening later, and generate lasting savings for local budgets and lasting gains in the quality of life for local neighbourhoods.

PCCs should use early intervention to attack the causes of crime at the source and in so doing unlocks with tiny investments a huge new stream of money. We are already seeing payback from investment in social and emotional programmes. Those involving young offenders are massively reducing costly reoffending. These programmes are also the pioneers of social finance and innovative Bond issues in Peterborough and Doncaster prisons. I was recently in New York, where the Deputy Mayor make an innovative agreement  with Goldman Sachs and a Social and Emotional Development provider. This has reduced recidivism in 16-18 year olds, generated a profit for Goldmans and may ultimately result in a wing or prison closure. PCCs oversight of policing budgets should include such money saving ideas as standard.

Earlier intervention also has proven results. For example in attaching health visitors to teenage mothers, as we do in Nottingham,  we draw on a 30-year evidence base of reduced crime, better job prospects and educational achievement.

If PCCs use their position creatively to become champions of early intervention, to argue for effective crime reduction programmes that make us safer and return money to the taxpayer, then all those voting today will be voting for a better tomorrow.

The first-ever police and crime commissioner elections will take place in 41 police authority areas in England and Wales today. Photograph: Getty Images.

Graham Allen is Labour MP for Nottingham North.

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.