As four years of the Coalition approach on 11th May, this week we examine its record to date in five key policy areas. In the final piece in the series, Edward Boyd assesses the Government’s performance on home affairs.
Edward is the Deputy Policy Director at the Centre for Social Justice
In less than three months, Theresa May will have been Home Secretary longer than any of the six Labour Ministers that preceded her. If she remains in post until May 2015 she will be only the second Home Secretary to hold the role for an entire parliament since Willie Whitelaw more than 30 years ago. It is a notoriously difficult brief.
The role of Secretary of State for Justice is no easier. Yet both Theresa May and Chris Grayling have not shied away from thorny issues and have introduced an array of reforms over the past few years.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has spent the last decade calling for reforms in these two departments because their policies disproportionately affect people from poorer communities. Indeed, it was why we agreed to coordinate evidence for the 1922 Committee’s Home Affairs Policy Committee.
I shall attempt to give the Coalition Government a score out of 10 for its record on ‘home affairs’ and in particular the effect reforms by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice have had on the most marginalised communities. It is not feasible to cover all the reforms they have undertaken in the detail they deserve. Instead I have outlined the salient successes and failures that form the basis for my score.
Policing is one the Coalition’s greatest successes. The reforms have proven that more can be done with less. Central Government funding will fall by 20 per cent in real terms between 2011 and 2015, yet crime is already down at least nine per cent since 2010.
This financial squeeze has motivated police forces to tackle long-standing inefficiencies, such as the swathes of police officers holding back-office jobs. As the Home Secretary said, the police should be ‘crime-fighters, not form-fillers’. In 2010 a fifth of police officers (amounting to 30,000) were working in back and middle office roles. By the end of this parliament 40 out of 43 forces will have increased the proportion of officers in frontline roles.
It is not enough, however, for officers to be ‘on the frontline’. They need to be in the right places at the right times, protecting in particular the most vulnerable communities from harm. We have heard from charities working in some of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods that this is not currently the case.
The former Home Secretary, John Reid, once said that ‘the last thing they [ministers] are going to want to do is to focus on maintaining a programme that is going to take 10 years to produce results when they will not be there to get the benefit of the praise.’
Yet this is precisely what the Coalition has done by introducing structural reforms, such as Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which are likely to improve policing over the longer-term.
PCCs – which the CSJ argued for in A Force to be Reckoned With – endured a rocky start, but have since bedded in and nearly two-thirds of the public are now aware of them.
This is good news as they give the public a strong voice in the setting of police priorities, and ensure the police are focused on the concerns of local communities. They also strengthen police accountability. Recent revelations on the Hillsborough and Stephen Lawrence Inquiries, and the ‘Plebgate’ saga have show that this move was long overdue.
By replacing Police Authorities with PCCs, the Coalition has also created a far better structure to fight crime. The police will always play the central role in crime prevention, but success requires every individual, community and organisation – both state and private – to play their part. By giving PCCs a mandate for every aspect of crime they can command a more joined-up crime-fighting approach. For example, Staffordshire’s PCC, Matthew Ellis, has worked well with partners in health, social care and the voluntary sector to better tackle mental health issues; and Hertfordshire’s David Lloyd has introduced ‘Citizens’ Police Academies’ to teach the public ‘how and when to intervene’ to prevent crime.
To judge success purely on statistical or structural grounds, though, would be incomplete. True political success should always tangibly improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For this reason, it is worth looking in-depth at a couple of areas covered by the ‘home affairs’ brief, namely modern slavery and gangs.
The UK has a modern slavery problem. During a two-year investigation the CSJ heard many heart-breaking stories of modern-day slaves being exploited in the sex industry and forced to be domestic slaves. This heinous crime has been largely hidden and suffered from poor police practice and weak political leadership, with devastating consequences. We heard of one girl who had been trafficked into the UK and enslaved in a brothel. She escaped and ran into the nearest police station for help and told them her story. She was arrested for immigration offences, rather than treated as a victim.
The UK is now starting to lead the world in tackling this vile trade by developing a Modern Slavery Bill, as called for by the CSJ. This is the first piece of dedicated anti-slavery legislation since the work of William Wilberforce in 1833, and will go a long way to rescuing people from the plight of modern slavery.
The Coalition has been less successful in tackling the UK’s gang culture. Our gang problem was made abundantly clear by the August 2011 riots, where at least one in five of those arrested in London were known to be part of a gang.
The Government’s response, the Ending Gang and Youth Violence Programme, set the right direction but the implementation of the programme has been poor. The CSJ report, Time to Wake Up, revealed that arrests of leading gang members had left a ‘power vacuum’ that was leading to ‘an escalation of violence.’ A further CSJ report discovered that thousands of girls and young women are being sexually exploited by gangs, and are being used to carry guns and drugs on behalf of male gang members. The Coalition’s gang programme has identified the right priorities, but there needs to be greater urgency in tackling the root causes of gang crime.
Chris Grayling has brought a passion for reform to the role of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. Taking on the role in September 2012 he was overheard saying ‘you don’t pilot a revolution’, and has not strayed from this principle. The Ministry of Justice is introducing a wide-range of reforms including contracting out a large part of the probation service, establishing resettlement prisons, modernising the courts and tribunal service, building six prisons, reforming legal aid, pioneering Secure Colleges, and extending rehabilitative support to those who leave prison after serving short sentences.
Chris Grayling’s ambition to tackle the many endemic problems within our justice system is impressive, but there is a risk that doing so much in a relatively short timeframe will overload his department’s ability to deliver. Given how little reform took place in the previous two years, it is a shame he was not given the role of Secretary of State for Justice at the beginning of the parliament.
One change that everyone should welcome is the extension of rehabilitative support to those leaving prison after serving short sentences. Offenders currently leave prison with just £46 in their pocket and receive no further support. The fact that almost two-thirds are caught committing crime within a year of their release should surprise no one.
Wider reforms to the probation service should also be welcomed. The MoJ is in the process of contracting out probation services for low and medium risk offenders to Community Rehabilitation Companies – which will be made up of private organisations, probation mutuals and voluntary organisations. By bringing in new providers, and incentivising them through payment-by-results, there is a real opportunity to foster greater innovation and reduce reoffending.
Finally, the Coalition Government looks highly likely to miss the immigration target it set itself. They aimed to reduce net UK migration to ‘tens of thousands’, and while there has been a fall from the 2010 peak of 252,000, it is now only 16 per cent lower at 212,000. It is debatable whether this was the right target in the first place but regardless of this, the Government looks set to fail by its own standards.
The Coalition has had more successes than failures in home affairs over the past four years. While they are likely to miss their immigration target, and gang crime remains high; overall crime is down, modern slavery is being tackled and short-sentence prisoners will be supported for the first time. On balance of this record, I give the Coalition seven out of 10.