The Labour Party has announced a new plan for tackling anti-social behaviour, including a ‘trauma-informed’ preventative approach and victims given a greater say in the punishment of offenders.
Amongst other things, Labour is proposing that victims would be able to sit on ‘community payback boards’ which would decide the form of unpaid work that the offender will take as well as holding them accountable for its completion. This would be combined with a preventative approach, taking example from countries such as New Zealand, using methods informed by the impact that early trauma (for instance, abusive parenting) can have on criminal behaviour. Essentially, this would entail a modernisation of the New Labour approach to crime, as Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed puts it; “You can [prevent reoffending] by tackling the effects of the trauma that leads them to offending. By doing it, you make them much less likely to offend again.
For those who remember the Labour government under Tony Blair, the phrase ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ will be a familiar refrain. Indeed, it was the Blair government that introduced the ASBO as well as anti-terrorism and immigration laws that were accused of impinging civil liberties. His government sought to combine this punitive approach to anti-social behaviour with a stronger welfare state, introducing initiatives like Sure Start and Child Tax Credits in the belief that it would help to lower offending by providing support to poorer families. In this, Starmer’s Labour Party is linking itself to its New Labour past, skipping over the last 12 years to a time when the Labour Party last enjoyed electoral success.
After 12 years of budget cuts to policing and a real-terms fall in police numbers, polling shows that the public does not have faith in the government to deal with crime effectively, with only a third trusting the government to reduce crime. Labour clearly senses a chink in the Tories ‘tough on crime’ armour, being able to point to a track record of rising violent crime and decline in police numbers to strengthen the argument that they are now the party of ‘law and order’, whilst also taking a more rehabilitative, preventative approach to anti-social behaviour to attract younger voters.
In this vein, Labour has also announced that it intends to reform the function of Jobcentres and certain terms of the Universal Credit benefit, which replaced most benefits in 2013. The management of Jobcentres would be decentralised, allowing them more local autonomy and, at least in theory, enable them to more effectively allocate their resources to local needs. The plan involves them becoming ‘hubs’ for both jobseekers to retrain or start a business and local businesses looking to ‘upskill’ their employees. Access to employment support with representatives from the private sector and trade unions would also be present and health services would also be more integrated into the support system.
The terms of Universal Credit would also be reformed, allowing claimants to study on a full or part-time course whilst still being able to receive benefits. Currently, claimers of Universal Credit must spend between 16 to 35 hours a week looking for work, even if they are on an agreed course of study, lessening the time and opportunity they have to find gainful employment.