Coffee House

The riots, Whitehall and universality

24 August 2011

11:30 AM

24 August 2011

11:30 AM

Away from the excitement of Libya and Colonel Gaddafi’s singular definition
of ‘tactical retreat’, the post-riots debate continues. The government has announced that unemployed offenders will have to work a minimum 28 hours in their
communities for four days per week and spend a fifth day looking for a job. This is part of the plan to bolster the Community Payback Scheme, signalled by Nick Clegg last week. Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, has described the riots as a “one-off” and said it was vital that community sentences were sufficiently firm and constructive to “break the cycle of crime and encourage a
law-abiding life.” Tim Montgomerie argues that the Tories are trying to reassert
their credentials on law and order. Community sentences needed to be stiffened in order to placate public disquiet over relaxed sentences, but today’s moves also suggest that the government is
unlikely to alter the criminal justice reforms fundamentally.

Elsewhere, Matt Cavanagh, a former Labour advisor, has an important blog
on what Cameron can learn from the previous government’s experience. Last Sunday, Tony Blair wrote that he recognised the specific social ills in Britain’s inner cities could only be solved by targeted initiatives because a general policy response was inadequate. Cavanagh examines the
Family Intervention Project and the Family Nurse Partnerships, introduced by Blair and extended by Brown. He writes:

‘These programmes share a number of characteristics which contrast with mainstream public services. They are usually targeted, rather than universal; they are designed around engagement
over months or years, rather than one-off encounters, and around engagement with the family as a unit rather than the individual; they are insistent and assertive, rather than waiting for people
to come and access services themselves; and they cut across institutional boundaries, usually with a single person taking responsibility for ensuring that different agencies are working together
to help deal with the problem, or at the very least that they are aware of what each other is doing and not working against each other.’


Targeted and incentivised initiatives, Cavanagh says, cut across the state’s isolated public services, which are run from "departmental silos" in Whitehall. But this means they
receive little administrative assistance because no government department takes responsibility for them; therefore, they require immense political support to succeed. Cavanagh worries
that the coalition has given these programmes scant thought until now. In its determination to cut spending quickly, the government appears to have subsumed these stand-alone
projects into more general policies like the Work Programme, with the result being that worthwhile schemes are lost in the broader administrative morass.

There is a constructive debate emerging between left and right on this topic. The right’s well-rehearsed arguments concern the efficiency of public services: for instance, the DWP’s
Work Programme is a near-universal scheme, but it is sufficiently tailored by external expertise
and incentives to provide help exactly where it is needed at an affordable price, or so the argument goes. The left’s position on public sector efficiency is more nascent,
but it can be reduced to the cautionary saying: “You’ll get nowhere if you cut away the good with the bad.” My colleague Martin Bright’s reservations about the Work Programme are a case in point: if this "cure-all for Britain’s ills"
doesn’t deliver on youth unemployment, it will simply have removed the few specific supports for the young in exchange for a few shekels now and huge welfare bills in the future, or so the
argument goes.

Cavanagh’s observations add another dimension to the discussion: Whitehall’s modus operandi is governed by the principle of universality, harking back to the high tide of the
welfare state, (an observation made by reformers in the current government also). A top down approach led by the DWP or the DoH has a limited chance of contending with those
problems that do not fit into one Whitehall in-tray. Cavanagh concedes that the last Labour government adopted this precise approach and “must recognise” that it
“brought far less improvement in the kind of complex and intractable problems” that have long-afflicted some of Britain’s communities. He concludes that the party must accept that
public services needn’t be universal in their application. Plenty of Conservatives and bureaucrats would baulk at such radicalism.

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Show comments
  • daifromwales

    A minister on BBC interview just now said that, what we want from prisons, is some degree of retribution and then rehabilitation. The former is wicked, and the latter is foolish. No wonder nobody has confidence in any reduction in crime!

    Firstly: ‘retribution’ is, and should be, an alien and wicked concept in a Christian country. I assume it is now respectable in our post-Christian society since it is supported by Judaism, Islam, and Scientific Humanists.

    Secondly: rehabilitation is another word for brain washing. It might well be in the interests of society, and if it can be achieved it is probably a very good thing. But the foetid air of savagery in our prisons is not the place for it.

    What we REALLY want, surely, are two things:

    Deterrence, and Protection.

    So as another commentator points out somewhere else on this site: when a man re-offends and is convicted for the 42nd time, the failure does not demonstrate the ineffectiveness of prison – but the ineffectiveness of releasing him.

    I have still head no cogent argument against corporal punishment in the aftermath of such street violence. Of course it will not ‘cure’ the chief offenders, but it will deter the opportunists and easily led. It is over quickly, and those in work can return straight away. It does not divide single parents from their children. And it is more humane than subjecting people to the fear and actuality of homosexual rape in prison.

    Failing that (and even better) – why not handcuff offenders to the lamp posts in the affected districts for a few Saturdays?

  • Baron

    Banquosghost, sir, you should frame what you’ve said, an unarguable epitaph of our enlightened Britain.

  • FvH

    It’s too late for any of this – sad but true

    Does anybody really believe that in 10 years time we’ll all be able to happily wander round Peckham and Tottenham etc without any worries

    I know that the government can’t really be seen to acknowledge this – they have to seem to be trying to sort things out but nothing will make any difference

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Matt, without criticising the sort of intervention you advocate, do you also think that there is a place to dis-incentivise pregnancy on the part of those who become ‘problem families’?

    Is there a place, in your opinion, for removing the right to have a child for some period – through an implant for instance, so as to also prevent the likelihood of ‘problem families’ being created or extended?

    I do believe there is a place for intervention, but so you think that such positive intervention must be open-ended and unconditional, or is there a place for society restricting the creation of anti-social families?

  • Banquosghost

    Youth is arrested for theft, a parent comes to the nick to act as Appropriate Adult while their offspring is interviewed. They act with shock and alarm when the details of the crime comes out and are equally shocked when their delightful child tells them to eff off.

    How can you talk to your mother like that say I
    She cant do nuffin, ive got human rights innit, she touches me i’ll ‘eve her done says the junior reptile
    Kid gets bailed does mum want him home? Of course, he’s her son and the cycle continues.

    Somewhere, someone is telling these kids that the police cant hurt them, their parents cant touch them and the state will pay out indefinately for them. In my experience with the police it is bloody ‘community’ groups and fucking teachers who are to blame. Adults with a leftist chip on their shoulder are actually telling these feral kids that the establishment can’t hurt them. Witness the results every day.

    (finds wall, bangs head)

  • Matt Cavanagh

    I couldn’t agree less with Bickers. Even if you think all these ideas are good ones (and I don’t), they won’t solve the immediate problem, of what to do with the most chaotic kids and families.

    We can have a lively debate about whether these problem kids and families are victims or villains. The answer is often both. If someone was abused as a young child, and then goes on to be violent in later life, then he is both. A nasty piece of work, maybe, but also, in an earlier time, a victim.

    My point, in the article cited in the above post, was a more pragmatic one: that programmes like Family Intervention Projects and Family Nurse Partnerships actually work. They help the people concerned, but even if you think that’s irrelevant (or worse, think it ‘rewards failure’ or wrongdoing), remember that these programmes also stop these kids and families harming others. If you can find something that achieves the same thing equally well or better, for the same or less money, I’d be interested to hear about it. (And before you say ‘Lock them up!’, consider that, first, this isn’t preemptive, and second, it isn’t cheap.)

    Finally, of course the kind of work these programmes do, can in principle be done by charities rather than the state – but whoever does it, it takes some up-front spending, even though it pays off handsomely down the line.

  • Heartless Hardly Romanticised Perry

    @ Chris Lancashire

    Tch!! Tch! Tch! – that would never never do! It’s against their yooman roits dontchano!

    Back to the Cultural Awareness, Diversity, Inclusive, and Equality Classes with you!

  • London Calling

    My father was working class, he left school without qualifications, however he was not illiterate and became an apprentice in the steels works where his father worked.
    Following a family feud, he and my mother moved to a small town in the Shires and with no work at first they both went potatoes picking at nearby farms to survive. Lots of local people did this and they were paid a small amount to fill one sack of potatoes. The more sacks you filled the more you were paid. My father soon realised that by collecting only the largest potatoes his sack would fill quicker, my mother followed behind him collecting the smaller ones. This did not go unnoticed by the local champion potato picker and my father was attacked, luckily for my father he had a large sack of large potatoes at his disposal as ammunition, but sadly was thrown off site and banned from ever working in local fields again.

    Shortly after this unfortunate episode my father got a job in an engineering factory in the town and invested his first wages buying new shirts and suits. A little while later Rolls Royce put out to tender manufacturing for Concorde, the challenge not being the materials used for the engine, but the design in which to make the engine work without it blowing up and to reduce the sound emitted by such powerful engines.

    My father liked a challenge and his knowledge of working with metals as well as his logical approach to problems enabled him to experiment after work and at weekends for months to find a solution. He did and it worked, he not only resolved to control the heat distributed from the engine but also by controlling the sound emitted, he won a contract for his factory with rolls Royce making the part and rose to a management position.

    The moral to this story is many, but the most important one is

  • Chris lancashire

    When is any politician going to propose reducing the supply of feral kids by removing the incentives to have a bastard on the welfare state?

  • Bickers

    It’s blindingly obvious what needs doing:
    1. Rapid implementation of IDS’s welfare reform plans
    2. Acceleration of Gove’s education reforms
    3. De-politicisation of the police, a clear out of middle management and form filling & return to police on the streets.
    4. Some form of compulsory national/community service for all teenagers (12months minimum)
    5. Arm length relationship with EU – trade only
    6. Reduction in BBC’s remit and massive reduction of its bloated workforce & licence income
    7. Law passed that limits Government’s take of GDP to maximum 35% average over any parliament

  • denis cooper

    I’m not sure how something can still be described as a “service” when it’s “insistent and assertive”.

    If I had a paid servant and I found that he was becoming “insistent and assertive” then I’d consider sacking him, and hiring somebody else who would do what I wanted rather than what he thought I should want.

  • Sir Everard Digby

    St Tony of Blair seems to have all the answers;targeted initiatives indeed.

    Load of spheroids. If the political classes stopped for one moment and actually accepted that they are the cause of what happened,we could resolve the problem. You could be forgiven for thinking they alighted from an alien spaceship this morning to resolve ‘our’ problems. Initiatives = spend money and claim a legacy. Consensus = It went down well in the House of Commons.

    The political class tribe is not our friend and will never ever resolve this problem,simply because they are in love with social engineering experiments,the results of which are plain to see.

  • denis cooper

    Well said, John Richardson.

  • Heartlessly Hard Romanticised Perry

    Targeted and incentivised initiatives

    Apart from the above Politi-babble from Whitehall, the only targeted and incentivised ‘initiatives’ around are the ceaseless baloney and claptrap by the trendy-bendy-snout-in-the-collective-trough of shameless apologists and hand-wringing BBC-Grauniadistas who cannot bear the thought of anyone or anything disturbing their cosy-rosy fantasy world of Left Wing Paradise.

    The most depressing aspect is that the U-Turning H2B is more than likely willing to ultimately cede to such drivel.

  • John Richardson

    The above is like a postcard from another planet.

    Well done to anyone who read it all.

    For anyone with a planet Earth based focus on recent events, the above is worse than useless.

    The above perpetuates the childish idiocy that the statist left political establishment; responsible for having created and expanded the massive welfare state are the very people who will save us from the consequences of a Welfare Nation.

    Why is it that nearly ALL new jobs go to non-welfare dependant foreigners?
    It’s obvious.
    I will not irritate anyone reading this with the obvious answer, but without COMPULSION any ‘work’ scheme is designed to fail.

    How about,

    A Message from he Political Class

    ‘We have no solutions to the social and economic catastrophy that we are staring at. Anything that would work would mean and end to the ECHR and real government from abroad.
    We have agreed to never even attempt to regain the power to rule Britain, therefore the whole of British politics is an expensive (for you) facade.
    It will work for as long as the public pretend not to notice.
    Luckily for us , about 40-60% of you DO pretend that you have not noticed that nothing works any more and the country is falling apart.
    So. We’re relying on you to keep up the moral cowardice.
    Remember, vote; Lab/Con/Lib !’

  • daniel maris

    So we are going to spend gadzillions of pounds on ever more thorough family intervention rather than spending a few hundred million on preventing such dysfunctional families being formed.

    Firstly, if we should not be allowing vulnerable babies to be brought up by anyone aged under 18 or by drug addicts. To do otherwise is a policy of insanity and bound to result in cruelty to children.
    There are plenty of good parents who will give those children proper love and care.

    Secondly, if there is evidence through convictions for violence and other such offences that a child will be vulnerable we should be testing for parenting skills.

    Thirdly the state should not simply be funding single parenting for women aged between 18-25. Single parenting should be made an extremely tough option and not one young women would choose lightly. Watch the single parent pregnancies plummet.

    Why should useless, cruel and neglectful parents receive all this care and attention? Far better to prevent them having the chance to ruin children’s lives.

  • Baron

    Targeted initiatives, is it, well, Baron’s deadly against any initiatives, targeted or otherwise, the outcome will differ only inasmuch as it’ll deliver post-targeted failures.

    The government should get out of any of such nonsense, govern, look at the legislation that has created the massive army of illiterate kids having to live on handouts supplemented by money from illegal drug trade, stealing, mugging, the five million or so people who have never experienced work supported by the entitlement culture, the inability of small businesses to expand because of the minimum wage and stuff like that.

    If the Government feels desperate to interfere locally they could offer help to localized charities, these know best what could make things better in given circumstances, have first hand knowledge of those in need, can do more good at lower cost to the taxpayers’ pursue.

  • Publius

    Clear as mud, but the upshot appears to be the usual leftist analysis. The thugs are the victims, and the solution is to throw more money at it.

    “Targetted” “interventions” persumably, for those “at risk”.

    To the extent that there is consensus, it is only because the range of political debate is so infinitesimally narrow.