It is great to see Anti-social behaviour being debated in the House of Commons. It shows that MP’s are taking an interest in the concerns of their constituents and are using their voice to try and bring about change. It was noted that the only thing that is currently mentioned more in Parliament is Brexit, showing that the issue of anti-social behaviour is finally at the forefront of many MP’s agendas.
One particular MP who has been very passionate about improving anti-social behaviour is Diana R.Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull. She stated that in 2018, it was found that 40% of national respondents think that crime and anti-social behaviour is a problem in their area, which is up from 25% in 2015. In addition to this, the Office for National Statistics found there was a 13% increase in people witnessing or experiencing anti-social behaviour between October 2017-September 2018. This number is worrying and highlights the issue is getting worse rather than improving.
Johnson states that “feeling safe where we live, work and play is important to us all, and anti-social behaviour can make people’s lives miserable”. 950,000 children have experienced some form of crime and anti-social behaviour, with 2.2 million of them worried about this issue. It shows that it is not just adults who experience anti-social behaviour and are worried by it; it is an issue that people of all ages are worried about.
One major point that was mentioned repeatedly in this debate, was the budget cuts implemented on the police force and what that means for victims of anti-social behaviour.
Keith Hunter (the National lead for Police and Crime Commissioners on Anti-Social Behaviour) believes that anti-social behaviour is often the start of more serious criminal behaviour if it is not checked and dealt with early on. He also believes that when the public and police retreat from public spaces, there will always be a section of society who will use that space for their own anti-social purposes. Then, the public become too scared to use the space again, and the bad behaviour is reinforced. One example to support his theory is budget cuts to Humberside Police. Since 2010, the budget of Humberside Police has been cut by 31%, with the Humberside PCC saying that the “services are stretched to breaking point”. This poses the question of how is anti-social behaviour meant to be dealt with effectively, when the police have no resources or funding to do so?
In addition to Humberside Police cuts, in November 2018, Bedfordshire police had to suspend its 101-call service for a few hours due to budget cuts, in order to focus on more serious crime, 999 calls. This results in the anti-social behaviour crimes being ignored, leaving victims frustrated and upset.
Despite national police budget cuts, local police forces are trying to make the best of a bad situation. For example, Humberside police have developed a mobile “cop shop” to move to areas where problems develop and are showing videos in local schools which demonstrate the effects of anti-social behaviour. It is hoped this will educate children and show them the effects of anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, when neighbourhood policing was introduced in Lancashire, one area went from 120 anti-social behaviour incidents a month to 10-15 incidents a month. This is a significant difference and shows just how powerful a police presence in a community can be. Many police forces and MP’s have expressed their frustration at being unable to roll out early intervention schemes to try and prevent anti-social behaviour, as they do not have the resources or funding to do so.
The consensus throughout this debate was that constituents are fed up of constantly flagging up and reporting anti-social behaviour and feeling like nothing is being done. Communities are being destroyed, leaving people upset, frustrated and frightened. This is something we see daily at ASB Help, and we share this frustration. For example, an issue mentioned in Parliament and one we get many e-mails about is neighbour disputes. Hull constituents reported that they must fill in numerous diary sheets as evidence, and then no action is taken. Hull City Council say they need these diary sheets to show a pattern of behaviour, however even then the behaviour may not be serious enough for a conviction, resulting in an eviction of the neighbours causing the behaviour. It can take as long as eight months for eviction, which is added distress for victims.
So, what next? This debate discussed some options of what should be implemented to try and improve the situation. The Government needs to invest more funding into the police, and also local councils. This will result in less police cuts, with more of a focus on Anti-social Behaviour, with more police presence on the street and the funding to carry out early interventions. The re-introduction of ASBO’s was also mentioned by some MP’s, who felt that this gave the police more power to sanction people. It was also suggested the Criminal Justice System should be reviewed, as it should be seen as a progressive system which helps people to get out of this behaviour and change. However, it is felt that is should also be prepared to sanction people who want to continue with this behaviour. Of course, this is a complex issue, with no “one size fits all” solution.