Think Tanks

Conveyor belt to crime

27 Aug 2011 07:24:21

Dominic Llewellyn: Rebuilding British society and tackling societal problems must involve empowering communities

Dominic Llewellyn leads trade missions for social enterprises with the Big Society Network and UKTI, and runs a social innovation consultancy, and is a Governor of Excelsior, Newcastle’s only City Academy.  

The last couple of weeks have shown us British society at its best and at its worst; the horrific scenes we saw of rampaging youths rioting across some of our major cities and the inspiring internet campaign that saw thousands of us clean up our streets. The inspiring campaign however must not mask the fact that pockets of British society are broken and that our communities are fragmented. We need a stronger and bigger society.

Governments have made significant mistakes in the way they have worked with civil society over many decades. Some have sought to control people through the machine of the state, whilst others have abdicated responsibility. I am hopeful that this Government is looking at a different approach. Indeed, in his speech last Monday, David Cameron commented “Government cannot legislate to change behaviour, but it is wrong to think the State is a bystander. Because people’s behaviour does not happen in a vacuum: it is affected by the rules government sets and how they are enforced”.

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22 Aug 2011 08:12:00

Danny Kruger: 65% of boys with a convicted parent go on to become criminals. We need to change that.

Danny Kruger provides the latest instalment of our series looking at the conveyor belt to crime. Danny who runs a charity for ex-offenders, Only Connect, was a speechwriter for David Cameron.

Kruger-DannyTo my mind the most important development in social policy in recent times wasn’t any innovation in public services. It was the re-discovery (in the words of the title of Sue Gerhardt’s groundbreaking book) of ‘Why Love Matters’. Gerhardt and others, such as Felicity de Zulueta of The Maudsley Hospital and Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company, have demonstrated how our early experience of relationships literally shapes our brain, and so conditions the personality we present to the world.

Thus modern neuroscience has brought us back to some very traditional truths – not least the importance of ‘breeding’, a word now lost to polite conversation – and presents a real challenge to the hegemony of liberal social policy.

Liberals of left and right, determined to enforce their respective fetishes – equality or freedom – by intellectual brute force, simply insist that every generation begins the world anew. Circumstances and relationships, the contingent factors which make an idea good or bad in practice, have no place in this worldview. But we are becoming forced, by events and by science, to face facts again.

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21 Aug 2011 08:06:42

Harriet Crawford: Using education to end the conveyor belt to crime

Harriet Crawford of the Centre for Social Justice writes about the role education can play in lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. As in all contributions to this series she suggests practical measures to improve education for the most disadvantaged.

Nothing raises the aspirations of children and young people like effective education.  If this Government is able to achieve its valuable promise of radical education reform, we will at last begin to slow Britain’s criminal conveyor belt.  Where there is abuse, dysfunction or neglect at home – a tragic reality for too many of tomorrow’s adults – where there is a lack of productivity in a community, and where life skills are absent, our schools should be engine rooms of social mobility.

Yet during last week’s riots we saw the involvement of children as young as seven years old. More broadly, we know that seven in ten young offenders describe their academic attainment as nil and that a third of the adult prison population was in care as a child.  For too many in the UK’s most deprived areas, our education system falls shamefully short.  As such, it consigns thousands to a purposeless future on society’s scrapheap.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published Breakthrough Britain, a report which examined this dangerous pattern of educational failure in the UK, and made recommendations for urgent action. For generation upon failed generation, little has been done through our schools to lift the achievements and broaden the horizons of the young people at the bottom of society’s ladder.  And as these riots have shown, educational failure has a huge social and economic price tag which we all pay.

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20 Aug 2011 07:27:18

Matt Oakley: Breaking the link between welfare and crime

Matt Oakley is Head of Enterprise, Growth and Social Policy at Policy Exchange. He contributes this latest entry in our series examining how to lift young people off the conveyor belt to crime. To read all entries - so far covering early intervention, parenting, policing and gang culture, click on this link and scroll down the page.

This week’s labour market statistics has been used by some to argue that consistently high youth or long-term unemployment, or a lack of ‘decent’ job opportunities contributed to the scenes we saw across the UK last week. In some senses, this is right, but rather than being a cause of the problems, it seems more likely that youth and persistent unemployment is a reflection of the same underlying root problem.

Research from the Department for Work and Pensions has found that roughly 10% of benefit claimants feel that whether to be on benefits or in work should be a choice for them to make. Another 20% felt that life on benefits had advantages that made them less keen to go back to work. Other research shows that people claiming unemployment benefits spend as little as eight minutes a day looking for work.

In essence, a belief in a right a right to benefits has replaced the notions of self reliance and of responsibility to families and the community. Policy Exchange have consistently argued that although current reforms to the welfare state are positive, they will not be enough to re-build a system with responsibility and a sense of morality at its core. We outlined in a Report earlier this year that to do this would require that:

  • The contributory principle in welfare in re-established. This would mean building a strong link between what people put in to the state in taxes and National Insurance and what they are entitled to if they become unemployed;
  • Jobseekers should be expected to be engaged in activities related to jobsearch for the equivalent time of a full-time job; and
  • Sanctions should be linked to total benefit – but protect dependents by working through a system of benefit cards that limit the types of things those who are sanctioned can buy.

As well as this, the state also has a responsibility to ensure that those with legitimate barriers to work receive the support they need to help them to find sustainable and rewarding jobs. Policy Exchange will publish a report in early September showing that to do this the benefits system needs to assess the needs that claimants have and target support much more heavily on those with the greatest needs. This will require significant reform of how Jobcentre Plus works and of the links between Jobcentres and private providers in the new Work Programme. But no-one able to of work would have the excuse that they are not receiving the right support.

Polling in an earlier Policy Exchange report showed that the public believe in a welfare state where: those who contribute get more in return; benefit claimants have a moral obligation to do all they can to get back to work; and Government is tough on those who do not. In short, they want the state to work for the majority – those on benefits because they are caring for others or because they are unable to work; those on benefits and doing all they can to find work; and those in work struggling to provide for their families to get by – not the minority. They want their contributions to be recognised. A system like this would go some way to re-instating the responsibility and morality that were very much missing last week.

19 Aug 2011 07:33:32

Alexandra Crossley: Disrupting the gangs that feed the conveyor belt to crime

Alexandra Crossley of the Centre for Social Justice recommends action against gangs in the fourth part of our series on lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. Previous entries have looked at early intervention, family and parenting and community policing.


The involvement of street gangs in the violence and criminality that exploded onto our streets last week comes as no surprise to those working in Britain’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Over the past ten years, an undercurrent of gang culture has been simmering beneath the surface of mainstream society.

Central and local government action to tackle this problem has been inadequate and as a result, street gangs have become a way of life for thousands of young people.  Worse still, lives have been tragically lost.

Inaction cannot be blamed on confusion. We know what factors drive gang involvement. Family breakdown, in particular fatherlessness, is at the heart of the problem: the gang gives young people in our most deprived communities a sense of belonging and safety, where a family does not. Similarly, for young people growing up in neighbourhoods with worklessness and dependency, educational failure and a poverty of aspiration, the gang offers a way out. It can offer a lucrative alternative to mainstream employment (some gang members earn £1,000 a week at age 14) as well as status and power. For many, gangs have the answer to the ills of society’s most disenfranchised and deprived young people.

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18 Aug 2011 06:57:40

Blair Gibbs: The role of community policing in fighting crime

This is the third in a series of articles examining the conveyor belt to crime. Previous contributions have looked at the importance of early intervention and supporting families. Today, Blair Gibbs of Policy Exchange looks at policing.


Debate around police tactics during the riots has stoked interest in policing philosophies and the merits or otherwise of ‘community policing’.  The Prime Minister’s use of the phrase ‘zero tolerance’ distracts from this, and should only be taken as a signal of the legitimate public desire for a firm response by the wider criminal justice system to the serious criminality that occurred. 

‘Zero tolerance’ is not the same as ‘community policing’ and it is a mistake to conflate them. As Bill Bratton - the greatest police leader of his generation - has argued, ‘zero tolerance’ is a crude misrepresentation of the policing philosophy he advocated. Bratton’s success in New York, not to mention much more success with far fewer resources while he was chief in Los Angeles (2002-2009), did not come from ‘zero tolerance’. That is never sensible or practically possible. It implies mass arrests for all minor offences and the total absence of proportionality and officer discretion.

What really happened in New York was a change of leadership which drove a change of organisational culture, and with that, came a change of tactics on the ground.  Local commanders took control, were held accountable for crime, and whilst arrests went up, that was a product of a more proactive, disruptive policing approach – not an objective.  More important was the application of a new philosophy of community policing, that changed the way the police saw their role.

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17 Aug 2011 07:15:00

Jill Kirby: Better parenting is the best way of preventing crime

This is the second part of ConservativeHome's series looking at the conveyor belt to crime and how to lift young people off it. Yesterday, Samantha Callan looked at the value of early intervention. Today Jill Kirby outlines ideas for strengthening the greatest crime prevention tool of them all - the family.


What kind of mother doesn't know where her 15-year old is at 3 o'clock in the morning? What kind of father doesn't turn up in court when his 14-year old is being tried for criminal damage? Magistrates dealing with the aftermath of the riots have expressed their dismay at the casual reaction of the young looters' parents. What remedies are available to change their behaviour?

The threat of losing council housing or benefits might shock them into action but will not be a lasting remedy, and there is a danger that other children in the family will suffer – not to mention the difficulty of enforcement. Parenting orders, requiring attendance at parenting education programmes, probation orders and curfews, are likely to be the most widespread punishments. These are important, but unlikely to transform attitudes amongst parents who have so far shown no interest in controlling their children. On Monday, David Cameron promised more support for intensive intervention programmes targeted on chaotic families. Such schemes also have a role to play, especially where one family is causing grief to an entire neighbourhood. But they are too expensive to be viable as a widespread or long-term solution. And they are about picking up the pieces, rather than stemming the causes, of the broken society. In that sense, they are more about restoring public order than rebuilding family life.

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16 Aug 2011 08:01:20

Samantha Callan: Early intervention is key to stopping young people turning to crime

ConservativeHome is today beginning a series of policy-orientated pieces looking at how we take young people off the conveyor belt to crime. We begin with this article from Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice looking at the importance of early intervention.

The best time and place to apply the crowbar to the conveyor belt to crime is before it starts moving – early in a vulnerable child’s life or at the first signs of trouble. When police were first faced with rioters they were criticised for collecting evidence of acts of disorder and not preventing it from happening in front of them. Yet that’s precisely what we tend to do with our most troubled families: we condemn their parenting when their children and young people fall foul of the law but are reluctant to step in – and help – before the line is crossed.

The emphasis on Early Intervention that runs through almost every important report on improving social mobility cannot remain a lofty concept in social policy – or be used to justify even more state intrusion into family life. Early intervention rests on a recognition that children’s physical, social, intellectual and emotional development is heavily influenced by their early experiences. Healthy brain development, in particular, requires a nurturing and responsive parent or caregiver. Abused and neglected children are at least 25% more likely to become involved in delinquency, to fall pregnant in their teenage years and to become drug users, as well as to suffer from mental health problems.

All too often this repeats a dysfunctional cycle – perhaps one of their parents was an addict or severely depressed and unable to meet their emotional and physical needs. Sometimes a tragedy strikes an otherwise robust family, parents find themselves unable to cope and there is no one else around to prevent the children falling through the cracks. Divorce and separation can also hit children hard. It’s not all about the early years but they do set the tone.

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