The Government's Approach to Crime Prevention - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 278- 288)



  Q278  Chairman: Could I first of all thank you, Mr  ` Smith and Mr Allen, for sending every member of the Committee a copy of your very helpful book; we are very grateful for all the work that you have done. This is an inquiry that looks into the causes of crime; how do we prevent crime? We are looking for innovative ideas to try and help us fashion a new approach. We are not here to criticise the Government or other political Parties; we are trying to draw together, as you have done in your very interesting work, some thoughts which we could develop for the future. Can I start by asking you, Mr Duncan Smith—and obviously Mr Allen and Mr Given will speak after you—how would you describe the interrelation between poverty, family breakdown and offending?

  Mr Duncan Smith: Thank you, Mr Chairman. Can I just say, before I answer that question, that this work I have done with Graham Allen is deliberately set to be non-party political, so you do not have any problems with us being party political today. Secondly, if I could just recommend to the Committee some other work that the CSJ carried out in the field of criminal justice: a report on policing, courts, sentencing, on prisons and on street gangs within about the last five or six months and some of the evidence we heard earlier is already dealt with and on which we have made recommendations. Certainly I actually came to this on the basis that there were concerns about Britain's peculiarly high level of family breakdown, which is peculiarly high when compared to continental Europe; and what does that mean? It is not about pointing fingers at anybody, it is simply saying that the outcomes for many children for what then become in the poorer areas very dysfunctional family relationships are progressively worse; and the numbers engaged in those dysfunctional family set-ups are growing. It was Perry, was it not, who said that over the next 20 or so years it will move from somewhere between being about 10% of the population to anything up to 20% or 25% of the population. The reason for that is these peculiarly dysfunctional and broken families, where you are getting three and four generations passing down very little that is constructive, where girls grow up having no self-esteem or boys never seeing any role model that is positive and constructive and that they do not get any nurture or support in the very early years; and our report is hugely about those first three years. The thing that has really skewed us on to this comes off the back of that point about family breakdown, that actually when you look at the children growing up in these dysfunctional relationships it is not an airy-fairy idea that somehow in sociological terms they would be better off if they did this or that the truth is that there is a physical change that is happening to them, which is that in the first three years their brain does not develop at the rate it should develop, which in turn puts them at about the age of three into the hands of the beginning of their formal education at a distinct disadvantage with their peer group, in the sense that at that point their brain is probably at the level of a child of one but they are being asked to comprehend and make decisions at that of the level of a child of three or even four. So it has a detrimental effect on them. It can be demonstrated—Graham has been on this longer than I have, but he was one of those who convinced me that this is necessarily the case—from that group, that very single group, we disproportionately draw most of our residual unemployed, most of our drugs addiction and criminal behaviour, a good example is to look at who makes up the prison population and you will see that this is not just drawn from the wide society, it is distinctly concentrated—over a third come from care homes, over two-thirds come from broken families; two-thirds of drug/alcohol abusers have the reading age on average of a child of about 11 or 12. All of this is because they are being left behind, long before they arrive in the education and that is because of this breakdown.

  Mr Allen: To answer your question directly, Chairman; yes, there are inextricable connections between poverty, social deprivation and the outcomes sometimes 16 years later in respect of crime, but also in respect of educational under-achievement, aspiration to work, people who have spent a lifetime on benefits. All these things can be broken into if—and I am sure that Members of Parliament will understand this—we get intergenerational casework from grandpa, to pa to son et cetera. It really is an intergenerational problem and if we can break into those families and give the babies, the children and the young people a possible future and way forward then not only will we tackle antisocial behaviour and criminality, but many of the other social ills. For us in Nottingham—and speaking here not as a Member of Parliament but as the Chair of the Local Strategic Partnership who set the ambition for Nottingham to be an early intervention city—our view is that if you give a baby, a child and a young person social and emotional capability, the ability to interact, the ability to learn, listen, to resolve arguments without violence, if you give a child those things, which most of us get from our parents, then you will end up with a rounded and capable person and a rounded and capable person is highly unlikely to fall into criminality, antisocial behaviour, drug taking, alcohol abuse, low educational aspiration, et cetera. So in many senses what we have attempted to do in Nottingham is to ensure by the 16 policies from zero to 18 that we are giving each child the opportunity to make the best of itself, and if you can do that—and the Chief Executive of the Crime and Drugs Partnership Alan Given will tell you a bit more precisely the actual results that we have managed to obtain in Nottingham—then I think you are giving that child a great start. The reason I think that this is now evermore important is because if you intervene late you spend vast amounts of money with very little effect; if you intervene with a quarter of a million pounds a year on a deeply intensive anti-drug programme that is far less effective than dealing with youngsters—and I could say that we probably get to most youngsters in Nottingham—for a comparable amount of money that it takes to get three people off drugs 16 years later.

  Q279  Chairman: We will come to those points later.

  Mr Allen: We will reference that, but what I am saying is that it is very much cheaper, very much more effective and in a time of economic constraint I think we have actually started to develop a new economic model which will help all parties overcome the deficit that we are currently looking at because a little bit of investment early will save billions and billions of pounds fire fighting in ten or 16 years' time.

  Mr Given: I do not have much to add to anything that has already been said by Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Allen.

  Q280  Chairman: We will come on to Nottingham in particular later, but if you have anything to add.

  Mr Given: There are two things worth adding in there. Firstly, I spent 32 years in the Police Service before going to Nottingham and anyone who has spent any time in the Police Service will tell you that they know where the difficulty is going to come from; they worked with difficult families and they know that the children of those families were very likely to be difficult in the future, and you will hear story after story where a police officer has dealt with the grandfather, the father and the son and/or daughter and other siblings of the same families. So it should not be a surprise to us—we know where we should be working. The other thing to stress is that we work with partners in Nottingham around early intervention but, even there, there are some misconceptions and I try and make the point regularly that early intervention is different to early reaction. People often say, "What we will do is bring this programme much earlier into somebody's offending behaviour" or, "We will deal with them as soon as it happens rather than wait three months." That is reacting early to the same problem and people often think that is early intervention. Early intervention for me is getting right ahead of that problem, getting right to the front end of the sausage machine where we know the volume is going in and working with a cohort of people that we know the difficulties are going to come from. It may not be every young child in the city—although we would like to do that—but we know that from certain areas of Nottingham city we are going to pick up a cohort of people who are going to cause us difficulty in the future and we should be working with all of them in an effort to catch the few who may become difficult later on.

  Chairman: Thank you. We will come back to all these points with our questions.

  Q281  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Allen, in your book you talk about the expanding dysfunctional base in society but can you give us an idea of the scale of it? Can you give us an idea of the numbers that you would categorise within that? And, perhaps more importantly, how many of that number are actually receiving early intervention or family intervention at the moment?

  Mr Allen: I think the last part of your question, Mr Prosser, is easier to answer than the first. Not many are receiving what I would term early intervention. There are some fantastic experiments, as it were, going on in the city of Nottingham; Birmingham with its Prudential Borrowing, Northern Ireland with its PATHS Programme; excellent work in devolved assemblies, may I say, both in Northern Ireland, Wales and the Parliament in Scotland that has a White Paper out; and the Isle of Wight is doing excellent work with Groups of Empathy. There is lots of good work but it is sporadic and one of the things I would like to see would be all political parties agreeing that we should pool this knowledge—bring that knowledge together in a national policy assessment centre of the sort they have in America. In terms of your question, a little more directly in terms of how many, I would refer back to the work done by Bruce Perry in America where he says that if you are looking at a percentage of people in this at risk group—as currently being, I think 5% to 10%—that in three generations because this group have their children earlier and faster then on average it will go up to about 25%. I think it was in three generations. So there is a really serious public policy agenda question here to address: do we tax people ever more to pay for the police officers and the magistrates' courts and the drug/drink rehab to combat that sort of level? Or do we take a different turning and actually start, as Mr Given said, to cut off the supply by early intervention both at a volume level, by which I mean things like the social and emotional aspects of the learning programme which every primary child does in Nottingham; the 11 to 16 life skills, which every teenager goes through in the city of Nottingham now; the Family Nurse Partnership, which is 0-2, with health visitors intensively helping mums and their babies; and Sure Start, of course, which is well established in Nottingham. Those volume things with some very specific things assist the children of prolific and persistent offenders; the early mentoring scheme, which does not wait until a child is 16 and gone wrong but goes to the eight year olds and nine year olds. A whole range of very specific things—the children who have suffered trauma because of witnessing domestic violence who need help really quickly if they are not to be completely traumatised. So there is a whole range of possibilities there and I think that if we deploy those and, above all, if we go to scale, if Government take this seriously—of all political complexions—rather than have isolated experiments then I think we will actually be able to make a very strong difference to the numbers of people who are coming through the system, who do not have the social and emotional capability to make the best of themselves. That gift is, I believe, in every human being and if we can just release it with the right sort of parenting skills and the sorts of programmes I have described then I think we will save, as I mentioned, billions and billions of pounds and have a much happier and less dysfunctional society.

  Q282  Mr Streeter: The Prime Minister actually gave you an answer the other day which suggested 50,000 "households of chaos", I think he called them. Did you agree with that number? Where did he get it from, do you know?

  Mr Allen: I have no idea. As far as I am concerned I was delighted that the Prime Minister recognised this as an issue and I was also delighted, may I say, Mr Streeter, that you came in and equally asked a very important question of the Prime Minister. I think the fact that leaders of political parties—the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, who Iain Duncan Smith and myself have met on this issue on a strictly non-partisan basis—are all now very, very close to adopting not just bits of the policy mechanism and trying to find the magic bullet, but I think they are actually quite close to looking at early intervention as a philosophy and as a vision, which we can certainly do in our city of Nottingham. You pinpointed I think the fact that we are all quite close to actually having this as a sea change in the way that we deal with problems of dysfunction in society.

  Q283  Mr Streeter: Predicting which young children will turn to crime—we have heard a bit about that all throughout the morning. Obviously I totally support that but to get the balance right between intervening, helping them and stigmatising, could you speak to that, please?

  Mr Duncan Smith: I agree with everything that Graham said just now, but I would draw your attention on page 51 (of our book on early intervention) to the Dunedin Study. One of our recommendations is that we carry out a proper study here which has never been done and I cannot understand why. The Dunedin Study in New Zealand is absolutely unequivocal. Over a period of time where they looked and identified the at risk families—and that is the key, we have termed them as "at risk" and they are children at risk—you will find that when they followed up at age 21 the at risk boys had two and a half times as many criminal convictions as the group deemed not to be at risk. The people that were identifying them were not stigmatising, they were simply looking at them and their behaviour in a not particularly long assessment either, by the way—of the people they marked out as in difficulty subsequently, 21 years later, they had two and a half times as many convictions as the not at risk group. There is a lot more that can be said but I raise that issue. The second thing is that I draw your attention to page 47 of our work which talks about the brain's capacity for change versus public spending and you will see hugely there that our public spending programmes are tilted at the far end of the development cycle and very little at the front end. Our reaction to the Prime Minister's answer about 50,000 at risk children is that you take anything that you can get hold of when a Prime Minister tells you that. The truth is that if you look at Perry's 10% of society figures, you would be looking more in the order of six million individuals. So it is more than 50,000, obviously; but, frankly, it is important that each of the political leaders understands this issue as being vitally important. In supporting everything that Graham has said I have to say that if you asked me what is the number one thing that any Government, incoming or continuing, should say if they want to really make an impact, it is that early intervention is vital—there is no question now from America, from New Zealand and everywhere else that we have to tackle this.

  Mr Allen: If I can answer very quickly on your two points. Stigma—can I say that I do not think we recognise that concept in Nottingham because the people we deal with want the help? Those mothers love their children as much as we love our own children and if you can say, "I can give you a health visitor who can help you raise your child in the right way and help you to learn" mums are falling over themselves to join the Nurse Family Partnership. We actually do not have the capacity currently to take all the mums who would like to use it. Secondly, who are they? Who is this group? I think that every Member of Parliament can tell you 20 or 30 families that should be in the group; and your councillors, your head teachers who say, "Little Johnny is only five but unless we get some help for him he is going to be one of those." The same with health professionals. Mr Given is more expert in this than I am but I think that data tracking, actually getting the group of people pretty early on, knowing who they are and knowing how to supply the help they need when they need it is one of the key things to crack in a local partnership, and that is why I think our success in Nottingham has been that this is not just a police matter but we have the health service, we have business, we have the third sector, we have children's services all at the same table—at the One Nottingham table.

  Q284  Mrs Dean: You obviously put most of the blame on parents. How much blame should be attached to the education system or wider community breakdown?

  Mr Duncan Smith: Can I just take issue with the word "blame"? What we are doing here is in no way trying to blame parents. The fact is that some of the parents we are talking about are the product themselves of an incredibly dysfunctional upbringing, so they do not know any better; and in many of these cases these women have been abused and so they are passing on incredibly damaged lives to their children. So the word "blame" is a word that I would certainly shy away from because it does not fit within the category of what we are trying to achieve. What we are asking them to do is to identify at risk children and recognise that first of all. The answer to your question, how much is it parents and how much is it education, the whole point about the studies that have been made and the work that has been done shows that the critical period for intervention in the child's life is in the first three years. So clearly the person or persons that are most likely to be involved in their child's life at that point are the parents and/or grandparents—ie: extended family. So the issue here is not about blaming them, it is about saying that they are the group—if you can get to them early enough and work with them and their children—then it is through those parents and their children that you will change the children's lives. But then Graham has also written in the paper that of course they did not come via some immaculate conception, you have to go back, because of course that parent himself or herself became a parent early, and those parents becoming parents early has been part of the problem and it goes on. So you have to cycle back to try and stop that process happening before it begins to get older parents. Again, I refer you to the Dunedin Study and I wish and hope that you will have a good chance to look at this because what is fascinating is the ability for them to predict now on the back of what was happening then. I talked about the boys committing crime but actually of those girls that had conduct disorders 30% of the at risk conduct-disordered girls had become teenage mothers where there had not been a single teenage birth of the conduct-disordered girls but from the not at risk group. So, in other words, in identifying the at risk group you can see exactly who is going to be continuing this pattern of dysfunction later on. Also fascinating, of that conduct-disordered at risk teenage mothers group, 43% were in abusive, violent relationships, intriguingly having found their partners from the within male at risk group identified. So a fascinating link—that they were selecting fathers and the father of their next child was drawn hugely from the at risk group who themselves would be passing dysfunctional behaviour down that chain. It was interesting because before the study was even completed it was able to conclude that immature mothers with no strong parenting skills and violent partners had already given birth to the next generation of at risk kids. So the point that we are simply making is that the reason for focusing at this stage on the 0-3 children is because that is the critical period of brain development and from which they will derive all of their capacity to cope and change and learn. Yes, schools play a part, nurseries play a part but by the time a child gets to nursery at four years' old with some of those children the amount of money that you will have to spend on that child to rectify this dysfunctional behaviour is enormous and it is a real question mark whether you can exact major change. So it is not about blaming, it is about getting to them and saying, "This is the critical path here, at 0-3."

  Q285  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Duncan Smith, the Government's Cutting Crime strategy does talk about early interventions to a degree. How much have they picked up on your joint thinking and how would you describe the biggest gap between the two approaches?

  Mr Duncan Smith: First of all, can I say—and I know that Graham will want to say something about this—that I know within the hurly-burly of politics and the run-up to an election that one Party can never say anything good about the other. So let me break that by saying I think that credit where credit is due to the Government, the Sure Start stuff, the definition of early intervention early on was the right thing to do; it was in the right direction and I think that the Government, the Labour Government coming in took a step in the right direction. For me the concern about Sure Start is not that it is a problem but other things started to be loaded into Sure Start in some areas, like childcare, and it started to become more self-selecting. So the basis of what it is doing is right. But the question really ultimately is recognising the sheer scale of this. That is a big challenge to the present Government and a big challenge to the others. So when we look at the work that we are recommending it is the scale of that, the need now to do this stuff in a very joined-up way; to recognise that just Sure Start alone in that sense is not going to work but what we need to do now is to recognise that there are a whole series of other programmes that we need to centre around it and one of the areas that we recommended was to start recognising the need for things like family hubs where there are a whole variety of other options available. We need to be able to increase dramatically the number of people in the community—nurses, health visitors—who will go out and identify the at risk groups. We need much more recognition in advance of the at risk groups and then getting out to them to bring them in, because if it is still self-selecting, these are the groups that will never come near authority. So that has to change. I think the Government has recognised that but the question is scale, about capacity to do it, about money. So what we are advancing here is a real step-change in what we are doing now, starting from the good base but really expanding it.

  Mr Allen: Could I just add that this is not the property of one Party and never can be. If you are talking about intergenerational change clearly we cannot have one Party come in and then ditch what everybody else has done. To an extent there is the Swedish model where if you have done it for 40 or 50 years it becomes part of the climate anyway. So I think it is very important that we do seek to establish a consensus on this so that this lasts. If you are going to make intergenerational change it must itself be over a generation. Finally, all Governments, all Parties find it very hard to change, particularly this massive Public Sector Leviathan that is there to pick up all the pieces and pretty ineffectually and very expensively. There are lots and lots of people with futures tied up in their big budgets and their big staffs and some are not too keen on saying "We will take a tiny slice of that and actually start to reduce and deflate that enormous balloon at the long end of the spectrum." So everyone feels like that regardless of Party and that has to change in all Parties too.

  Q286  Mrs Dean: A lot of the evidence you base your early intervention policies on comes from America. How easy is it and to what extent will that directly transfer to the UK context?

  Mr Allen: It is a great pity that we are not sitting here talking about lots—I have mentioned some of the UK examples but there should be lots more and I think that is another debate, in a sense, about how we free up particularly local government and our devolved settlement, and I think we would get a lot more. The US has a constitutional settlement that bubbles up lots of different ideas from lots of different levels. But we have to be really careful in just transposing something from the US. It is possible to learn and a classic example is the Nurse Family Partnership, which has been rolled out now on the fourth wave—there are about 50 cities now that have this intensive health visiting for teen mums and their babies. The person who invented that, David Olds, insists on what he terms "fidelity" to the scheme, so that the evidence base is intact, which is quite sensible. There is other stuff: for example, what is the best value for money programme rather than us all inventing our own and having pet schemes, where the University of Colorado took 7000 federal programmes, involving bullying, drug taking and emotional development, to distil them into 12—take the best 12 blueprints. Similarly, in Washington State Steve Aos takes programmes for the Washington State Legislature and does: what does a dollar save you or what does a dollar cost you? He has pointed out a number of programmes that cost you more than they save, and he is saying ditch those. So there are theories about how this works which we can bring to the UK but we also need to make sure that much of this, like the SEAL Programme and the 11-16 Life Skills, et cetera, are home grown to meet UK needs.

  Q287  Mrs Dean: How can you assess the impact of such policies when they reach the next generation?

  Mr Duncan Smith: Can I pick this up, because Graham mentioned it? What we agree on and what I want to work on now is a change for Government, which is accepting some limitations of any Government. If you look at what is going on in Washington State, what is most interesting there is not the absolute transferability of what they are doing in programme work but it is actually the concept that they have created over there, which is that they have set up an office independent of the legislature, rather like the Audit Office in the sense that it is completely independent. The difference is that his office looks at programmes prior to their implementation and is set up to adjudicate whether or not any programme has a return on investment which is positive. So, in other words, this gets you to the point of saying: from all the evidence that has been produced do we believe that that group will actually end up saving the state money—let us say Nurse Family Partnership or like Roots of Empathy or the SEAL Programme or whatever—and they calculate any savings to give a bottom line figure; it is pretty hardnosed stuff. And if it is a positive ROI, then basically they say to the legislature, "As far as we are concerned that programme can be implemented." Then they go further, they adjudicate the implementation; rather like Ofsted they will go in and if it is changed they will recommend cutting the programme. So fidelity is absolutely critical; discipline in the Civil Service and at local government is something that we really could and should look at doing because too often Governments of all persuasion under pressure create some programmes, thump them in, put money behind them and say that will be fine; but they have not looked at it properly and it ends up costing us money with no tangible saving—and there are plenty of things we can look at, whichever political Party has been in. With this organisation that process should eventually cease and what you should be able to say is, "When we initiate a programme, beyond reasonable doubt we believe that that will actually save us money." Because after all, getting kids and changing their lives should save money on unemployment, on education, on crime, all the way down the line. That has to be calculate, but should be possible even over as short a time as a five-year period.

  Mr Allen: They have just dropped two prison-building programmes from their programme, so they have saved several million dollars as a consequence and that several million will be reinvested in other things.

  Mr Duncan Smith: They recommended that signing on at Job centres—driven by the political cry of "Sign on every week" for unemployed people—they came to the conclusion that it saved not a penny and in fact it cost money as a result of the extra staff required, so that was dropped. So that is how they work—independently.

  Chairman: Mr Prosser has a question to Mr Given on Nottingham.

  Q288  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Given, from your perspective how does One Nottingham differ from other strategic partnerships and what challenges have you had to overcome in order to get all of your partners working together and pushing in the right direction?

  Mr Given: One Nottingham is the overarching partnership for the city. I am the Chief Executive of the Crime and Drugs Partnership, which is one of the themed partnerships that report into One Nottingham. There are a number of challenges associated with trying to bring the partners around the table, but most of that can be offset by showing those partners that their contribution to a particular agenda will help their own agenda. For example, in the National Health Service, a reduction in crime prevents them being overloaded at A&E on a Friday/Saturday night, and bed space et cetera. There is a lot that partners can do to help. In terms of the partners themselves, they need to know that if they are going to get involved in an agenda like this something has to be paid off to them at the other end, and we know that a crime costs society on average £2,000—the Home Office figures. Some are much more and some are less but the average is £2,000. Some of that goes into the health service and some of that goes into sick time off work, some of it in transport costs, et cetera; it is wrapped up in investigation, and the other bits are associated with the crime being committed. But £2,000 is the average. There has been a reduction in Nottingham city of about 40,000 crimes over the last four years or so. That represents a saving to society of about £70 million—£68 to £70 million. I appreciate that that does not go into somebody's bank account somewhere; it is not a bottom line on a budget somewhere, so people do not necessarily feel the benefits of that reduction, but they sure as eggs are eggs feel the pain of crime going up. Everyone feels pressure on their budgets as crime goes up. So it is felt one way and not the other. What I think we need to do with our partners is to find a way of taking some of that money that either comes from Central Government to some of those other agencies or departments, or directly from Central Government, take some of that £70 million and put it at the front end, so that we can start to manage some of these difficult people that we are coming across. If you speak to any police officer they will talk about a problem-solving triangle of victims, offenders and locations. We do that and we have driven crime down in Nottingham city—I have a couple of graphs here that I can share with you later on—and the crime in the city is dropping like a stone. But everyone will know that there is a plateau to that. We will get to the point now where it becomes very, very difficult and so we will have to do something different. There is more to be had but the something different will be about early intervention; it will be about getting to the front end of these problems and preventing some more of these issues. So I would say take some of that money from the front end, get partners to engage, get them to show that it is a part of their business, get them to understand that crime reduction for society is of benefit to all of those agencies, which we have managed to do in Nottingham city—they do accept that—and then get them to engage with something like an early intervention programme.

  Mr Allen: I would say that as Chair of One Nottingham for four years, with a budget of around £15 million only £3 million to £4 million each of those years was spent on early intervention. So what we have managed to achieve, even over four years in one city, costs no more than £16 million. As I have said, if you bang up a 16-year old in a secure unit for a year that is a quarter of a million; so effectively for the same price as 60-odd children being banged up we have a complete panoply of 0-18 of policies that will actually influence thousands of young people to develop their full potential.

  Chairman: Mr Duncan Smith, we did note the fact that you were in a tower block last night as part of the Channel 4 suggestion, so you are really taking a practical interest in this. We were sorry to hear about the illness of your wife; on behalf of the whole Committee we hope that you will pass on our best wishes to her and we hope she gets better as soon as possible. Mr Allen, Mr Given and to you, Mr Duncan Smith, we are extremely grateful to you for the evidence you have given today, for your book and for your continued interest in this area. Certainly you have made sure that Parliament recognises how important early intervention is and I can assure you that we will look at what you have said with great interest when we publish our report. Thank you very much.

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