Broken Britain? Welfare Conditionality and Anti-social Behaviour

October 16, 2014     Leave a Comment

In the next of our highlighted briefing papers, John Flint explores anti-social behaviour in relation to conditionality.

The riots in English cities in 2011 magnified debates about the extent to which a ‘Broken Britain’ had emerged in which urban disorder, and more mundane but persistent anti-social behaviour, were manifestations of crumbling community fabrics, declining citizen responsibility and a failing criminal justice system. Despite the furious debates following the summer of 2011, tackling anti-social behaviour has not been given the rhetorical or legislative prioritisation by the Coalition that had characterised the New Labour administration and, in particular, the personal commitment of Prime Minister Tony Blair to a ‘Respect Agenda’ which had seen a plethora of new measures and the introduction of the now infamous ASBO. However, as our recently published Briefing Paper: Anti-Social Behaviour discusses,  the Coalition Government has recently introduced the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

The Coalition Government’s Anti-social Behaviour Strategy, Putting Victims First (2012) combined a rhetorical emphasis on ‘a rehabilitation revolution’ focused on prevention and a second chance society; arguing that the growing numbers of mechanisms introduced by New Labour, almost all of which were underpinned by forms of conditionality combining prevention, support and enforcement or sanction for non-compliance, had not addressed the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour. Arguably, New Labour itself has recognised this; with its early focus on ASBOs, Parenting Orders and Dispersal Orders being increasingly replaced, particularly once Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, by a focus on early intervention and whole household approaches, epitomised by the growth of Intensive Family Intervention Projects. The Scottish Government’s Promoting Positive Outcomes (2009) has a similar emphasis on early intervention and tackling causes rather than symptoms, including the promotion of positive choices and behaviours.

The Coalition Government offers a more explicit rationale for the economic benefits of early intervention and a critique of enforcement measures such as ASBOs. However, the Government continues to argue for a combination of support and sanction and that sanctions and ‘non-negotiable support’ can be effective, for example retaining Parenting Orders. The new Act actually broadens the range of behaviours that may be defined as ‘anti-social’, lowers the burden of proof and extends the geographical range of interventions. While conditionality has always been a mechanism to regulate conduct, for example tenancy agreements, four recent developments are particularly noteworthy. Firstly, we have seen the introduction of a further form of conditionality in which incentives and sanctions are applied to facilitate engagement with support, rather than sanctions being related solely to the original ‘anti-social’ behaviour: Parenting Orders and Family Intervention Projects are two examples here. Secondly, unlike ASBOs, new powers in the 2014 Act introduce the requirement of positive behaviours rather than (unlike ASBOs) merely requiring desistance from anti-social conduct: in other words, conditionality becomes linked to proactive conduct. Thirdly, the continuing emphasis on Family Intervention Projects demonstrates the complex, nuanced and ambiguous interface between supportive services and more punitive disciplinary sanctions and how these interact in bringing about behavioural change and transformative outcomes. Finally, the Troubled Families Programme which aims to ‘turn around the lives’ of 120,000 families during this Parliament illustrates new mechanisms of payment by results and the increasing role for private and voluntary/community organisations within continuing and reconfigured regimes of conditionality.

There has been considerable debate among researchers, practitioners and policy makers about the relative efficacy of supportive or more punitive approaches and the extent to which conditionality, including sanctions, is appropriate and effective in addressing the causes and manifestations of anti-social behaviour. Our research project aims to offer a further understanding of these issues as they play out in a continually evolving policy and practice environment. Whatever new government is formed in May 2015, it is likely both that there will be a continuation of governance activity to tackle anti-social behaviour; and that conditionality will be central to the mechanisms of policy and practice in this field.

John Flint, October 2014

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