The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness

In the UK, following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, the government response took the form of austerity measures. This has had far reaching implications, one of which being the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of vulnerable and marginalised people within society, such as those affected by homelessness.

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Sharon Hartles is a MA student with the Open University. She has an interest in state-corporate crimes, white-collar crimes and how these exacerbate social harms. Sharon has worked in the education sector for 10 years and believes that knowledge is paramount to challenging the crimes of the powerful which are permitted and not prohibited by black letter law.

The number of people living in poverty in the UK dramatically increased as a consequence of the governments shift towards market-based capitalism, underpinned by the social-economic reforms endorsed in the 1980s. This situation was further exacerbated by the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, which led to the UK government bailing out the British banks to prevent a collapse of the British banking system. Unsurprisingly, the ramification of the government’s decision to bail out the banks initially took the form of a stimulus programme which was superseded in 2010 by austerity measures. The government’s spending cuts, as part of these measures, led to a reduction in the budget deficit which has had far reaching impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable/marginalised people in the UK, including those affected by homelessness.

Since the onset of austerity in 2010, the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England has increased year on year from 2010 – 2017. Approximately, 4,751 people bedded down outside overnight on a snapshot night in autumn 2017 compared to 1,768 people on a snapshot night in autumn 2010. Rough sleeping has therefore more than doubled over these seven years. However, the reason why rough sleepers are becoming more visible in British cities and public open spaces is because support services and hostel availability are diminishing, as a direct result of the government cuts and reform to areas such as welfare.

In July 2014, the Home Office published its reform of anti-social behaviour powers to support the effective use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour which takes place in public and open spaces. According to the Home Office reform information, “where the actions of a selfish few ruin these spaces, through public drunkenness, aggressive begging, irresponsible dog ownership or general anti-social behaviour, these places can be lost to the communities who use them”. This powerful form of labelling stigmatises homelessness as othering, the act by which groups of individuals become represented as an outsider and not one of us. Such stigmatisation associated with homelessness limits exposure, opposition, active resistance and the publics’ outrage, enabling the government to punitively criminalise homelessness and enforce this through the criminal justice system.

In England, between 2015 – 2016, 2,365 people were prosecuted for committing vagrancy-related offences including begging. Prior to the financial crisis and the introduction of austerity measures 1,510 people were prosecuted during 2006 – 2007. Vagrancy-related offences have increased by more than 70% in one decade.  In 2014, three men were nearly prosecuted for taking discarded food (cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms) from a refuse bin. In 2015, sixty-two rough sleepers were arrested by the Sussex Police for accepting money from the public. On the other hand, no members of the public were arrested for offering and donating money to rough sleepers. The resurrection of the Dickensian vagrancy law together with the new Public Space Protection Orders which have been enacted in over 50 local authorities has resulted in a growing number of vulnerable homeless people being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for street drinking, defecating, urinating, begging and rough sleeping in public spaces.

In a bid to save money the UK government implemented a crime control approach to homelessness, concerned with promoting security and controlling crime, in favour of a social welfare approach, concerned with promoting equality, inclusion and well-being. Such a decision to shift to an enforcement-based approach was underpinned by the following political and economic factors: the financial global crisis of 2007 – 2008, coupled with the government’s choices to bail the banks out and introduce austerity measures to reduce government spending.  This causal relationship between the government’s policy to shift towards a crime control approach to homelessness resulted in the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness. In contrast, only 28 people were charged and only 5 people were convicted in the UK for their part in the financial crisis (bankers – guilty of white-collar crimes), which was considered by economists to be the worst and most significant crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The tax-payers in the UK have borne the financial brunt of the bankers’ crimes since 2010 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  However, there are others such as those affected by homelessness who are fighting for their right to exist, not to be criminalised and not to lose or have their liberty restricted.

While homelessness in the UK has increased by 134% since 2010 in line with the imposed austerity measures, homelessness in Finland has fallen by 35% over the same period of time. In contrast to the UK government ushering in its crime control approach that punitively criminalises homelessness, the Finnish government is promoting a social welfare approach and is committed to abolishing homelessness altogether. It is clear that the UK government has scapegoated homelessness to whitewash the financial deficit resulting from the bankers’ white-collar crimes (repackaging loans and playing roulette games with the stability of global markets). As is common practice through the exercise of ‘smoke and mirrors’, the government has orchestrated the punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness in order to divert the publics’ gaze away from the real crimes and the real criminals who are responsible for causing the worst financial crisis in global history.

The original form of this article was posted on  sharonhartles.weebly.com and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Contact

Sharon Hartles

Email: sh28739@my.open.ac.uk

Twitter: @shartles1

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr

 

Crime and ASB victimisation on Social Renters

A TseloniAndromachi Tseloni leads the Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU. Her research revolves around risk and protective factors of (repeat) crime victimisation, perceived crime risk and disorder, and the role of security and routine activities in the crime drop.

 

Rich Pickford takes the lead on facilitating RPickfordconnections between researchers, communities, business and citizens and maximising the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work.

 

 

Social renting households experience the highest levels of crime victimisation by housing tenure types according to research based on national crime statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. At a period of sustained reduction in crime it is imperative to recognise and seek solutions for groups who have not benefited from this crime drop.

Nottingham Trent University’s Quantitative and Spatial Criminology (QSC) Research Group has done in-depth research in this area. This article will highlight research and recommendations related to Social Renters with a particular focus on:

  • Household Crime
  • Personal Crime
  • Witnessing or Experiencing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB)

Extensive analysis of various years of crime survey data (from 1990s through to 2014) undertaken by the first author highlights that social renters experienced between double and 10 times the national average household crimes depending on their area of residence and year of victimisation (Tseloni et al. 2004; Tseloni 2006). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • 70% more household thefts;
  • 40% more criminal damage (Osborn and Tseloni 1998);
  • 50% more burglaries including attempts (Hunter and Tseloni 2016); and
  • roughly 40% more burglaries and household thefts.

Crucially social renters’ relative burglary risk has tripled compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (Tseloni and Thompson forthcoming).

The QSC’s research and testing in Nottingham shows that deploying the WIDE combination of household security has the biggest impact. WIDE stands for Windows that lock with a key, Internal lights on timer, Door double or dead locks, and External lights on a sensor. Homes in England and Wales with this combination are 49 times safer from burglary with entry than those without any security devices (Tseloni et al. 2017). The moderate cost of this combination makes it an attractive prevention tool that can be widely deployed. Further research shows it is also the most cost effective & environmentally friendly system of burglary prevention (Skudder et al. 2017). By contrast alarms on average moderately increase the risk of burglary (Tilley et al. 2015).

We recommend that social renter providers deploy the WIDE principles across their housing stock, and be prudent on relying on burglar alarms to prevent burglaries.

WIDE

Window locks, Internal lights, Door double or dead locks, External lights.

Social renters experience 40% more personal crimes within their neighbourhood (within a 15’ walk from home) than owner occupiers regardless of where their neighbourhood is situated (Tseloni and Pease 2015). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • an increased number of thefts from person and robberies (Thompson 2014);
  • 85% higher odds of assault in the night-time economy (Garius 2016); and
  • nearly double number of violence incidents perpetrated by acquaintances, that is people they know just to speak to casually / just by sight, neighbours, workmates / work colleagues, clients / members of public contacted through work, friends / acquaintances, or local children (Tseloni 2016).

Also social renters’ relative risk of violence by acquaintances has moderately increased compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (ibid).

This research highlights the increased risks faced by social renters. The QSC research has informed engagement and awareness campaigns and we are happy to talk further about this work. It has nudged the Office for National Statistics to provide the online individual victimisation predictor tool (Pease and Tseloni 2014). It can help national and local crime prevention agencies and crime and safety partnerships to understand their area risk profile for a variety of crime types and target messaging to support clients (Hunter et al, 2018; Hunter 2017). These research findings could be used to lobby government and local policy makers to ensure resources are allocated to this pressing issue.

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a term that includes a wide and diverse mix of ‘social disorders or incivilities’ which can range from harassment and intimidating behaviour to dangerous or inconsiderate vehicle driving. The Crime Survey for England and Wales identifies 13 types of ASB whereas the police classifies reported ASB into three possible but not mutually exclusive categories: personal, nuisance and environmental.

Social renters have in comparison to owner occupiers higher odds of experiencing or witnessing ASB by roughly:

  • 30% with regards to criminal ASB (this includes criminal damage / graffiti, harassment / intimidation, others using / dealing drugs, dangerous dogs, and indecent sexual acts);
  • 20% with regards to inconsiderate social ASB (this includes inconsiderate behaviour, loud music / noise, litter / dog fouling, nuisance neighbours, and begging / vagrancy / homeless);
  • 40% with regards to vehicle related ASB; and
  • 20% with regards to ASB from groups hanging about (Ward et al. 2017).

These figures have highlighted a real need to further understand this issue.  The QSC team are currently undertaking further research on ASB.  If you wish to be kept informed of this research please contact the research lead, Dr. Becky Thompson, at rebecca.thompson02@ntu.ac.uk.

We hope our research is used as justification and evidence to stakeholders and partners to tackle traditional volume crimes and ASB by directing scarce crime prevention resources towards target hardening social renting households and their physical environments.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University is continuing to develop research in this area.  We are keen to work with crime prevention agencies to make society a safer place by developing collaborative work. Further research is currently being developed on similar issues, including, for example, investigating the place and community cohesion effects on crime rates and perceived victimisation risk.

If you are interested in hearing more about this research or some of our previous studies highlighted here on burglary and violence we welcome your contact. Our work is always undertaken with partners tackling issues outside of academia and we value the opportunity to test and develop our research in this way to ensure it has non-academic use and value.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU has vast expertise in producing internationally leading research often in collaboration with crime prevention agencies that informs public protection policies. Our aim is to develop a better understanding of the factors that shape victimisation across different crime types and ASB in order to inform crime reduction and public reassurance initiatives. The group has extensive expertise in Public Protection informing research, in particular identifying population groups and areas vulnerable to crime and ASB, effective and efficient crime prevention initiatives and their evaluation.

 Academic References

Garius, L.L. (2016) Opportunities for physical assault in the night-time economy in England and Wales, 1981-2011/12. PhD Thesis, Loughborough University.

Hunter, J. (2017) “Helping police forces to engage with their local communities: A bespoke Community Engagement Area Classification at the LSOA level across the East Midlands.” Report to the College of Policing.

Hunter, J., Garius, L., Hamilton, P. and Wahidin, A. (2018) Who steals from shops, and why?, in V. Ceccato and R. Armitage (eds.) International Perspectives on Retail Crime. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (in print).

Hunter, J. and Tseloni, A. (2016) Equity, justice and the crime drop: The case of burglary in England and Wales. Crime Science. 5(3). DOI10.1186/s40163-016-0051-z Open Access.

Osborn, D.R. and Tseloni, A. (1998) The distribution of household property crimes. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 14, 307-330.

Pease, K. and Tseloni, A. (2014) Using modelling to predict and prevent victimisation. Springer-Brief Criminology Series, New York: Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-03184-2 (Print) 978-3-319-03185-9 (Online).

Skudder, H., Brunton-Smith, I., Tseloni, A., McInnes, A., Cole, J., Thompson, R. and Druckman, A. (2017) Can Burglary Prevention be Low Carbon and Effective? Investigating the environmental performance of burglary prevention measures. Security Journal. DOI: 10.1057/s41284-017-0091-4 Open Access.

Thompson, R. (2014) Understanding Theft from the Person and Robbery of Personal Property Victimisation Trends in England and Wales, 1994-2010/11. PhD Thesis, Nottingham Trent University. ​

Tilley, N., Thompson, R., Farrell, G., Grove, L. and Tseloni, A. (2015) Do burglar alarms increase burglary risk? A counter-intuitive finding and possible explanations. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 17(1), 1-19 DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1057/cpcs.2014.17 Open Access.

Tseloni, A. (2006) Multilevel modelling of the number of property crimes: Household and area effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A-Statistics in Society, 169, Part 2, 205-233.

Tseloni (2016) “Stranger and acquaintance violence in England and Wales: Trends, equity and threats.” Crime Surveys Users Meeting, Royal Statistical Society, London. 9 December 2016. Also see: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/ project/178996/overview/violence_trends).

Tseloni, A. and Pease, K. (2015) Area and individual differences in personal crime victimisation incidence: The role of individual, lifestyle /routine activities and contextual predictors. International Review of Victimology, 21(1), 3-29.

Tseloni, A. and Thompson, R. (forthcoming) Highly targeted population groups lacking adequate burglary security over time, in A. Tseloni, R. Thompson and N. Tilley (eds.) Household Burglary and Security. Springer. See also http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/project/178965/overview/burglary_security).

Tseloni, A., Thompson, R., Grove, L., Tilley, N. and Farrell, G. (2017) The effectiveness of burglary security devices. Security Journal, 30(2), 646-664. DOI: 10.1057/sj.2014.30 Open Access.

Tseloni, A., Wittebrood, K., Farrell, G. and Pease K. (2004) Burglary victimisation in the U.S., England and Wales, and the Netherlands: Cross-national comparison of routine activity patterns. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 66-91.

Ward, B., Thompson, R. and Tseloni, A. (2017) “Understanding Anti-Social Behaviour.” Report to the College of Policing.

Contact

Andromachi Tseloni, Professor of Quantitative Criminology, School of Social Sciences,  andromachi.tseloni@ntu.ac.uk

Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer, Nottingham Civic Exchange, richard.pickford@ntu.ac.uk | @NottsCivicEx | http://bit.ly/2qhBfB8

Copyright free images: from author and https://pixabay.com/