Adrian Crossley is the Head of Addiction & Crime and Joe Shalam is the Head of Financial Inclusion & Housing at the Centre for Social Justice.
This week we’ve already seen a raft of announcements from government on its plans to clamp down on crime. Catching much of the media’s eye was the Prime Minister’s suggestion that people convicted of anti-social behaviour would carry out their community service adorned in fluorescent jackets in the full gaze of the public.
Yet the media furore around the PM’s remarks should not divert us from the other important messages that have emerged on the role of family, housing and work as the most effective routes out of crime.
Yesterday, the Ministries of Justice and Housing made a welcome joint commitment to addressing the drivers of re-offending. After all, prevention is just as important as cure (even if it is harder to soundbite).
Among the host of initiatives highlighted are previous commitments to an extra £80 million for rehab centres and 1,500 more probation officers. But strikingly, the Housing and Justice Secretaries have transcended the walls of their Whitehall departments, coming together to announce a plan to break the cycle of crime and homelessness.
Far too often prison leavers end up on the streets. Ministry of Justice data shows that in 2019-20, of 70,000 individuals released from custody, fewer than half found settled accommodation on release. Data in London shows a conveyor belt of several hundred prison leavers becoming rough sleepers every year, while national data reveals this number to be in the thousands.
And so it is welcome that Government have announced a new scheme providing prison-leavers with “basic” temporary accommodation and improved access to addiction support. This builds on an earlier cross-government initiative to open up employment opportunities for people with convictions, and new plans to recruit at least 1,000 ex-offenders in public roles.
Even so, the barriers prison leavers face to turning their lives around cannot be overstated. CVs are rejected outright. Addiction issues are left untreated. A lack of family contact while inside can leave them isolated from the only support network they have; family breakdown is often the result on release. This not only keeps people trapped in a vicious cycle, but ultimately leads to more victims of crime. Some £18 billion a year is incurred as a cost to the taxpayer as a result of reoffending.
Addiction can drive social breakdown and crime. It is estimated that just under one third of people are in prison for crime related to addiction such as theft or burglary, while the drugs trade is thought to cost the UK some £19 billion a year. This week’s announcement that project ADDER (Addiction, Disruption, Diversion, Enforcement and Recovery) will be expanded with an additional £31 million will be embraced by the communities that will benefit.
There are also signs of a renewed sense of ownership and direction in the Government’s response yesterday to Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs unveiled earlier this month. And Dame Carol’s welcome appointment as an advisor to help the newly formed Combating Drug Unit suggests government is listening. Given that official research shows offenders engaging in treatment commit a third fewer crimes, the benefits to be realised are significant if this strategy is delivered properly.
Similarly, the Government has made an ambitious commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024, but critical to meeting this will be scaling up the successful Housing First pilots across England. International and domestic evidence set out in the recent Centre for Social Justice report Close to Home shows Housing First helping people to break the cycle of homelessness, reduce substance use and anti-social behaviour much more than conventional accommodation programmes. Every pound spent on Housing First saves taxpayers £1.56 as the demands on the state are reduced.
Nevertheless, what we have seen this week is encouraging and indicative of efforts made by the Prime Minister and indeed the cabinet to connect departments on key issues. Indeed, the cross-Whitehall approach is a useful model through which wider social issues – many of which have sadly festered during the last year-and-a-half’s lockdowns – could be addressed by government coming together.
As we approach winter, and as the pandemic continues to bite while much of the emergency support withers away, the Prime Minister would be wise to get ahead of further social breakdown by developing a self-confident poverty strategy. This should similarly unite departments to help people live independently and thrive following the adversity of the last year-and-a-half.
The gaze of the public will no doubt be looking for this too.