Headlines: June 7th, 2005

The Government is being urged to change the emphasis of its campaign against anti-social behaviour to show it can tackle the underlying causes, as well as taking a hard line with those responsible for the trouble. Research released today shows that two thirds of adults believe preventive action would be the most effective way to deal with intimidating behaviour, vandalism and other anti-social problems.The study, carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by researchers at King’s College London, reveals that only 20 per cent of people interviewed in a specially-commissioned national survey saw tough action against those accused of anti-social behaviour as the best way forward. A further 11 per cent wanted to see a combined approach using prevention and enforcement.

The new study suggests that even residents in neighbourhoods that face serious anti-social behaviour, have conflicting views on the causes of the problem. Focus groups in some of the worst affected areas found older residents tended to view anti-social behaviour as a symptom of declining moral standards. Some other people blamed social deprivation and the disengagement of a growing minority of young people and families and a third group took a ‘kids will be kids’ view, seeing the behaviour as a consequence of young people’s tendency to rebel and to antagonise their elders.

The researchers used a national sample survey of people over 16 and focus groups in three case study neighbourhoods. They also conducted in-depth interviews with representatives from communities and agencies, including the police, local Anti-Social Behaviour Co-coordinators, and housing officers.

In the case-study neighbourhoods, people were most concerned by bad behaviour from children and young people, visible drug and alcohol misuse, disputes between neighbours and ‘problem’ families. Some people in the areas said they feared retaliation if they intervened and many felt powerless to overcome the problems in their areas. Statutory agencies were considered impotent to deal with serious misbehaviour.

The study’s findings also show that while anti-social behaviour is an acute concern for a significant minority of the population, it has little or no impact on the majority.

Professor Mike Hough, Director of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at King’s College and co-author of the study, said that the Government’s ‘Together’ campaign against anti-social behaviour appealed to the law-abiding majority to take a stand in a struggle between ordinary, decent people and a tide of loutishness. The reality, as suggested by the research, he said, was more complicated. “It suggests that the public want policy makers to balance tough enforcement through ASBOs with strong, high-profile action to prevent problems and offer young people constructive alternatives to hanging around on the streets.”