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Urgent action needed to tackle surge in anti-social behaviour following lockdown

Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, today spoke out on behalf of anti-social behaviour victims following mounting evidence of a surge in anti-social behaviour complaints.

The Victims’ Commissioner’s concerns were set out in an open letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, sent on 14 August. In the letter, she called for the government to show leadership in tackling the problem, by funding task forces to deal with anti-social behaviour in those areas hardest hit.

She also highlighted the failure of the Home Office to act on recommendations to provide support and more rights to the victims of ASB. In a hard-hitting report on the plight of victims of ASB “Living a Nightmare”, twelve recommendations were made which were designed to give victims a voice, access to support services and the power to challenge when authorities refused to act. The report was published in April 2019 and despite the Home Office welcoming the report at the time, only one recommendation has been implemented.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel replied on 17 September, placing the blame on increased ASB on breaches of COVID-19 regulations. She rejected the request for additional funds to tackle the problem and offered no explanation for the failure of her Department to act upon the recommendations in Living a Nightmare.

Yet this week, the national police lead for ASB revealed a 12% increase in complaints of ASB unconnected with COVID-19 regulations.

“Dame Vera says “The Home Secretary’s letter is disappointing and suggests the Home Office do not understand the problem. The 12% increase reported by the national police lead if anything, understates the increase in ASB. The charity Victim Support, who provide victim services in over thirty areas across the country, tell me that since 27 March, they have seen a 27% increase victims of ASB wanting to access Victim Support services and in August they saw a 161% increase in ‘hits’ about ASB on their website. I speak to frontline victims’ services from across the country every fortnight and the feedback I have been getting shows a sharp rise in the number of victims of ASB being referred for support.  This includes a six-fold increase in ASB victim referrals in parts of the north east to four-fold increases in parts of the south west.”

The police are clear that ASB is on the up and it is not simply COVID-19 complaints. Victim services are clear that the behaviour is sufficiently serious to prompt people to ring up for support in such large numbers that they are struggling to cope. One local authority is declining to take more ASB complaints as it doesn’t have the resources to cope.

Vulnerable people targeted in their own homes need help and cash-strapped councils can’t manage any more than stretched police forces and local victims’ services.

There is an urgent need for central government to fund local taskforces to tackle this very impactive behaviour. But this by itself is not enough. Victims also need to feel they have a voice and are being listened to. They must be recognised as victims of crime with access to victim support services.

Living a Nightmare’ set out a plan to put victims first and tackle ASB at source. Its recommendations must be implemented and not simply ignored.

Dame Vera says:

“We are living in extraordinary times, with people spending much greater time in their own homes, often worried, stressed and feeling vulnerable.

“Persistent anti-social behaviour causes untold misery, stress and despair at the best of times, but we must understand that the impact is so much greater under lockdown conditions. ASB can have a corrosive effect on public morale and community cohesion at a time when it is so important that we all come together.

“This is why I am so dismayed by the Home Secretary’s response. There is no recognition of the problem and the fact that with another six months of social restrictions, it is only going to get worse.

“I fear that unless it acts, the government is sleep-walking to disaster, with anti-social behaviour being allowed to escalate and the victims being left to fend for themselves. Now is the time to act.”