Targeted interventions driven by dedicated individuals have made a big difference on some estates. Photo: Getty
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Why the government must pledge to eliminate sink estates in ten years

Deprived estates can be recovered from within; the government must commit to a ten-year programme to clean them up with them help of dedicated individuals.

Having spent time on some of the worst estates in Britain talking to frontline police officers, residents and members of those communities, it is shocking to see how entrenched and generational the social problems are: fly-blown, rat-infested flats occupied by small children with raw heels because their parents can’t afford shoes the right size.

Domestic violence is endemic. On one estate, the council always used to house vulnerable women fleeing violent, abusive partners at the same flat. Organised crime groups found out which one and targeted these women as soon as they moved in, so they could hook them on hard drugs and use the flat for their expanding drug empire. It seems surprising that the council and the police are not communicating about this, but it highlights one of the key problems – agencies and partners do not share information, they work in silos. 

Despite high crime rates, many estate residents are too frightened of the repercussions, or disillusioned with the police, to report crime, the report says. It describes increased crime reporting as a fundamental step in changing estates.

The 2011 riots in London and across the country were the most compelling sign that the social fabric of Britain was in urgent need of repair. Britain’s most deprived housing estates are a time-bomb of social decay. Decades of neglect and ghettoisation have led to acute, entrenched social problems that cost billions to the public purse: gang warfare, knife crime, domestic violence, illiteracy, unemployment and child neglect.

In Taunton, Detective Constable Andy Murphy has turned around the crime-ridden Halcon Estate. It had been neglected for 80 years. Organised drug gangs from Manchester had taken over. Youth unemployment, intimidation and domestic violence were rife. Murphy’s first challenge was to break the wall of silence and increase the reporting of crime. He installed a portacabin with police insignia in the car park of the local Asda. A witness or victim could say they were visiting the supermarket and use that as an opportunity to give their statement, without fear of being seen talking to the police.

In Halcon, like many troubled estates, a key obstacle was that statutory agencies were prone to working in silos and were reluctant to share information with each other. Murphy’s solution was simple. He held meetings three times a week with all the different agencies in an ex-housing authority flat. They talked about all the problems faced on the estate: crime, illiteracy, unemployment, substance abuse, rape and assault. Lasting partnerships were forged. Together, his team mapped out the whole community and used the data to examine every household. No problems were left festering behind closed doors. Their interventions became more specific, targeted and effective. Over five years, Murphy’s team transformed the estate.

In Lambeth, South London, a local sergeant, Jack Rowlands, had policed the Stockwell Park Estate for a decade. It was notorious for gang crime, drugs and guns. But Rowlands noticed the gangs weren’t making much money from drug dealing – nor were they claiming benefits. One gang member said: “Get me a job, sarge.” So Rowlands decided to organise a job fair on the estate. He liaised with voluntary organisations and businesses like Timpsons, which has a track record of employing people with criminal records. Eighteen young men known to the police as gang members got jobs at the first job fair and have stayed in employment ever since. One became a manager at Westfield Shopping Centre; he now talks differently and his whole outlook has changed. Rowlands says this makes him far prouder than if he’d just arrested him and banged him up in prison. Four job fairs later, 48 gang members have found work in catering, retail, and construction.

The deprived Pengegon Estate, in Camborne, Cornwall, arson was eliminated by getting the local fire brigade, Blackwatch, to play football with the local lads.

These successful transformations show that deprived estates can be recovered from within. By being locally-minded, determined and creative, individuals were able to catalyse huge change.

Gang members can be given a way out to a better life. They need more positive local influences in their lives. As one resident put it: “Sure, we have role models. Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela. They just don’t live round here.”

It would be morally inexcusable for policymakers to turn their backs on Britain’s sink estates. Even the most notorious, deprived council estates can be transformed from dangerous backwaters. Gang members can be presented with a route away from crime towards a better life. Children and families living in these troubled communities can have their lives dramatically enhanced. But only if the government commits to a ten-year programme to clear up the worst estates in the country. Targeted interventions driven by dedicated individuals have made an enormous difference.

Gavin Knight is a journalist and author of the book Hood Rat on inner city gun and gang crime. He is also the writer of The Estate We’re In, a new Policy Exchange report

Gavin Knight has written for the Guardian, Times, Newsweek, Prospect and Evening Standard. He also has appeared on CNN, Sky, BBC and ITN. He spent two years with frontline police units and dozens of gang members researching his non-fiction book on inner city crime, Hood Rat, published by Picador.
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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