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Every Asbo a failure, says Balls, in break with Blair era on crime
· Parents key to cutting
child crime - minister
Tania Branigan 28th July 2007
Every anti-social behaviour order marks a failure, children's secretary Ed Balls said yesterday, in a clear break with Blairite rhetoric on law and order.
"It's a failure every time a young person gets an Asbo. It's necessary - but it's not right," he said. "I want to live in the kind of society that puts Asbos behind us."
He added: "It is about parents taking their responsibilities seriously. It is about kids having interesting things to do and it is about young people having respect for the society in which they live."
His remarks follow rising concern among children's campaigners and many in the criminal justice system about the increasing use of Asbos. Yesterday they welcomed his comments and expressed optimism that they would lead to fewer and more effective orders.
A government source said Mr Balls was not proposing a policychange but acknowledged: "It's a shift in tone...It's going back to emphasising the causes of crime as well as being tough on crime itself."
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardos and former director general of the prison service, said: "A change in tone may be all that's needed. We don't say Asbos are not sometimes necessary; we say they are overused and we believe it's scandalous that most are given without a support order, as if [the child] will just miraculously reform."
Chris Stanley, head of policy and research for crime reduction charity Nacro, added: "It really is encouraging...What works in reducing anti-social behaviour and youth crime is a long-term policy, which the government has just announced this week with its 10-year strategy for dealing with young people."
Mr Balls told the Daily Mirror he would unveil a children's plan in October, bringing together policies on health, education and behaviour and putting children "at the centre" of government thinking.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights campaign Liberty, said: "Asbos had become the Blairite totem, allowing children to be gratuitously named and shamed and imprisoned rather than cared for with both love and boundaries. Like moving youth justice into the children's department, it's a really important development - but it will take more to turn the supertanker around."
Some ministers also believe that the tone of previous law and order pronouncements stoked up public fears of crime and anti-social behaviour unnecessarily, creating a vicious cycle which made it easier for the Tories to attack the government and warn that society is breaking down.
In a speech this week, Gordon Brown implicitly rebutted David Cameron's criticisms by drawing attention to the strength of Britain's social fabric, celebrating its "millions of quiet, often unheralded deeds of commitment and acts of humanity".
But David Davis, shadow home secretary, said the government had failed on three counts: because so many young people were falling into anti-social behaviour; because Asbos had a breach rate of two thirds; and because only 2% of such breaches were punished with custody.
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, added: "Tony Blair never missed an opportunity to claim that [Asbos] were the catch-all solution to anti-social behaviour. So where were Gordon Brown and Ed Balls over the last 10 years?"
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