Efforts to control public spaces, such as the latest furore over the ban on swearing at Salford Quays, are in the spotlight at present. The Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) have been contentious from the start and research undertaken by The Manifesto Club has recently highlighted why (http://www.manifestoclub.com/). I’ve read criticisms about anti-social behaviour being an “ever-expanding and arbitrary term” alongside concerns of hyper-regulation of our everyday lives.
For us the overarching focus on PSPOs creates a rather different issue. Yes, we agree that statutory guidance is in sore need of clarification to ensure PSPOs go through the proper consultations and to prevent innocent acts from being criminalised. Yet, we fear so much focus on these PSPOs too neatly takes resources away from those types of ASB that are ruining the lives of so many individuals and families in this country.
I’m sure it’s unpleasant to hear a load of foul language if you’ve gone for a family walk through Salford Quays. Yet surely this is temporary. We are rarely contacted by victims experiencing ASB in a public place. No, the heartfelt cries that we receive are usually those who feel trapped in their own homes thanks to the behaviour of their neighbours. The isolated and vulnerable – unable or too scared to galvanise public support to get the Council to take action. Unsurprising, since when they finally do get up the courage to report the ASB they are too often fobbed off, the problem belittled, the victim’s story disbelieved.
We make no secret about our focus – the Community Trigger. This has been designed to help the vulnerable, the isolated, those at the point of breaking, to get a multi-agency review of their case and action taken. Sadly we often feel we beat a solitary drum, the media seem remarkably disinterested in spite of the potential this has to show up agency failings, something they usually like to do! Often the hidden anti-social behaviour is the most complex and costly to solve. Easier to focus scant resources on implementing PSPOs to respond to those who shout the loudest (for what are often relatively minor incidents) than attend to the individual, complicated cases.
Do we have to see another tragedy like that of Fiona Pilkington before agencies truly appreciate the importance of prioritising the vulnerable or those suffering persistent ASB that wears even the strongest person down? PSPO debates rarely mention the victims that are behind the power. They’ve been sidelined once more, this time in favour of the general public’s opinion.
We are glad to see organisations and individuals shouting loud about free expression, free movement and free association. These are important values and the legislation’s statutory guidance flawed given its lack of protection of these. Who is shouting out, however, for that lonely victim, suffering anti-social behaviour of the most damaging kind, not knowing where they can turn? We hope other voices will join with our own and champion the rights of those who most need it.
Jenny Herrera CEO, ASB Help