Prevention is better than cure – my column in this week’s Tribune

Prevention is better than cure. Nip it in the bud early on. A stitch in time saves nine.

There are many ways to say it but we all know what it means – it’s better to stop crime and anti-social behaviour happening in the first place, than to deal with the consequences.

Ask anybody in my constituency what is the best way of getting crime and anti-social behaviour down and the first reply is almost always to have more police on the beat and more lights in the park.

That’s perhaps not surprising. But the second thing people say – and there’s agreement on this from 16 year olds to 60 year olds – is that we need more things for young people to do and places to go after school, in the evenings and at weekend.

But I fear the Tory-Lib Dem coalition does not recognise this. And the very idea that government and local services can play any role in preventing crime and anti-social behaviour looks set to be one of the first casualties of the deep and immediate cuts being driven through by the coalition.

First, let’s be clear that our approach worked. Under Labour crime fell by 43 per cent. Violent crime fell by a similar proportion and the chance of being a victim of crime is at a historically low level.

Youth re-offending rates are falling and public perception of anti-social behaviour is at its lowest level since we first started measuring it. And astonishingly, while crime rose by 18 per cent in the 1980s recession, during this last recession crime continued to fall.

There’s much further to go, particularly to reduce the fear of crime in our communities. But no amount of rewriting of history by the coalition – or the kind of misleading distortion of crime figures which got the Tories into hot water earlier this year – should detract us from defending the progress we made.

Much of this fall in crime and anti-social behaviour was thanks to a record number of police officers. We’ve got nearly 17,000 more than in 1997 and some 16,000 Police Community Support Officers too, who now work in more visible neighbourhood police teams, know their beat and are in touch with their community.

I know from my own constituency that neighbourhood policing has started to make a real difference. Residents value being able to contact named police officers and PCSOs. People feel safer in their streets and the work of neighbourhood police teams is increasingly driven by listening to and acting upon local concerns.

But what’s also made a big difference is a much greater focus on preventing crime and stopping young people going down the wrong track.

While it may have started too late, particularly as we had decades of under-funding to address, we responded with a major expansion of investment in youth services in the last few years.

We ensured young people had a say in what was provided. We finally made clear in our language that only a small minority of young people disrupted things for everyone else and that media attempts to tar all young people with the same brush were unfair and damaging. And we focused extra resources on areas with high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour and pushed for more things to do on Friday and Saturday nights.

This was a quiet revolution that was beginning to pay real dividends. Fewer young people are getting into trouble and communities are less worried about teenagers ‘hanging around’. In some areas that were the focus of our youth crime action plan calls to police about youth anti-social behaviour more than halved.

As both social policy experts and those who need to have a watchful eye on public spending must surely agree on, prevention is better than cure. But my fear is that it’s just this sort of investment in early intervention and prevention that will be the first to casualty as funding for local services is slashed. Even before this week’s spending review it had already started with the coalition imposing in year cuts of almost a third on the ‘area-based grants’ to local councils for children’s services and youth services.

Without well-funded and powerful lobby groups to make the case and with the buck unfairly passed to local councils, the coalition may think these are easy cuts to make. But cutting this deeply and quickly in these areas will be counter-productive in the long term if crime and anti-social behaviour rises and society pays the price.

As this opposition will make clear, that is neither tough on crime, nor its causes.

Ed Balls is Shadow Home Secretary and Labour & Co-op MP for Morley and Outwood

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Posted October 22nd, 2010 by Ed

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3 Responses to “Prevention is better than cure – my column in this week’s Tribune”

  1. Andy Farrell says:

    Although I agree with almost everything said, especially “we need more things for young people to do and places to go after school, in the evenings and at weekend”, I have to take issue with the statement about crime fell under Labour.

    What fell was reported crime and this is largely down to ‘an apathy to report’ because little if anything is done.

    The trouble is the Tories, as we have seen today with the announcement by Lancashire Constabulary, are forcing cuts to the very areas that are needed and give vital support to those who are still ‘civic minded enough’ to report things like anti-social behaviour.

    This will lead to only one thing and far from Cameron’s Big Society dream it is society paying a very heavy price.

  2. admin says:

    thanks for your comment. there’s no doubt there is much more to do, but it’s not just recorded crime that fell under Labour, so too did people’s experience of crime as measured by the British Crime Survey. the question is whether that can be sustained with cuts to police, PCSOs, youth services and other prevention programmes.

  3. Andy Farrell says:

    Pleasure Please don’t forget not everyone is surveyed by the British Crime Survey.

    That doesn’t mean it hasn’t reduced in some areas, it has but I haven’t been campaigning (as it is classed) against crime and especially anti-social behaviour for over a decade on problems that don’t exist.

    The answer to the will it be sustained with cuts question is, as I pointed out, NO but we made a very serious mistake in assuming everything was rosy while we were in office.

    In far to many cases the Government and in turn party were badly let down by Home Office Communication Units, who chose to send similar answers full of spin and attempted reassurance in points raised about objectives in Community Safety Strategies not being completed in full.

    The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act should have made significant improvements, subsequent amendments gave councils and their partners even greater powers which should, if anything, have made life even easier but, at grass routes, they are not being used.

    You can believe or not believe but high profile cases which have made the media, relating to ‘death by anti-social behaviour’ have also shown it to be the case when the Community Safety Strategy relating to a specific area has been looked at.

    The sad thing is I pointed all this out to Keith Vaz as part of the The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into policing in the 21st Century but was ignored and as we have seen people have died as a consequence of failure.

    I don’t particularly blame Labour hierarchy for it, Crime and anti-social behaviour in particular has increased since the Tories gained control of my council and far from what Cameron is preaching on his view of Big Society even his own councillors do not attend PACT meetings but I do feel Ed needs to be careful when sending messages on cuts and using crime fell under Labour as an opening gambit.

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