I’m sure I am not the only one who was disgusted with the language used by Sir Keir Starmer as he detailed Labour’s plans for tackling antisocial behaviour in the Daily Express last week.
He wrote of “yobs terrorising our town centres” – certainly very emotive language. But it is this use of the term ‘yobs’ that concerns me, because I’m not comfortable with what he’s inferring by that.
The wrong approach to antisocial behaviour
I grew up, mostly, on various council estates. I attended schools where a good number of students came from challenging backgrounds. The kind of children who many would label yobs, writing them off as people who would amount to nothing in the future. Thankfully, by and large these students had people, such as their teachers, to believe in them.
Sadly, Starmer doesn’t seem to believe in young people. By labelling people as yobs, he is writing them off – he’s saying that they’re hope-less. Indeed, Labour’s proposed solution to the issue of antisocial behaviour says the same thing – just creating yet more orders to ban offenders from public spaces.
I am not denying that antisocial behaviour is an issue that has grown out of hand in the UK. It’s true that many people don’t feel safe in public spaces, or even in their own homes, due to repeated antisocial behaviour.
Rather, I’m arguing that the way to deal with this isn’t simply more police on the beat, more orders and more enforcement. We cannot keep buying into an ideology of only tackling crime once it has happened. If we’re serious about tackling crime, and we should be, then we have to tackle it at its source.
Third spaces (places outside of home or the workspace) have reduced in number and become increasingly inaccessible to adolescents, the kinds of people Starmer refers to as ‘yobs’. Where young children have playgrounds and adults have cafés and bars, teenagers have very little.
There are few places where young people, particularly those from less well-off households, can exist in public without the expectation of spending money. When young people do make use of free public places, such as parks or libraries, all too often they are accused of loitering, in itself often seen as antisocial behaviour. All too often, spaces tailored towards adolescents, such as skate parks or football pitches in public parks, are locked during the hours that young people might make the most use of them.
This lack of third spaces has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which sadly led to the closure of many spaces that were already struggling.
Invest in our young people
A report published by the YMCA in 2022 indicates that youth services experienced a real-terms fall in funding of 74% over the previous decade. Such cuts are not without consequence – they are manifesting in the increase in antisocial behaviour, knife crime and mental health issues experienced by young people.
If we want to tackle antisocial behaviour, the way to do that isn’t by investing in our police force. It’s by reversing austerity and investing in our young people again. True progress lies in fostering an environment where young people have accessible and supportive spaces, ultimately mitigating antisocial behaviour at its source.
Sadly, Labour seem to be lacking the political will to make any real impact. Investing in provision for young people may not be the most flashy policy, and may not be the kind of policy that goes down well amongst Daily Express readers, but it is surely the most effective one.