Friday, November 03, 2006

ASBOs 'R' (Bog) Us

'Worst in Europe, squeals the media with delight today. According to a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) released in the usual way, (i.e. leaked to the BBC), our young people excel at just one thing - badness. They drink more, get into more fights and have more sex than their peers in France, Germany and Italy. It’s nice to know they’re good at something. Now if they could just channel all this violent youth disorder into an Olympic aspiration we might have the makings of one of those lovely ‘step changes’ Government ministers are always on about. There are lots of Olympic events for throwing things and at least one that I can think of where two people grapple about on the floor and try to pull each others limbs off. We are talking significant transferable skills here. It has the makings of a reality TV show, surely. What about From Ruffian to Olympian (judges - Ozzy Osborne, Eddie the Eagle and the ghost of George Best)?

Also out today is a report by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and youth offending charity NACRO (leaked to absolutely everyone a week before its official launch), suggesting that ASBOs are fairly useless as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour. Young people seem to find them a desirable thing to have, ‘a badge of honour’ according to the report. It’s a bit like chicken pox it seems - not much fun to start with but much worse if you’re the only poor sod who hasn’t got it. Some children even celebrate because the ‘exclusion zone’ defined by their ASBO takes in the location of their school. There is some incentive there is there not? Cue total polarisation as the bring back the birch brigade blame selfish, narcissistic parenting and da yoof workers scream for more money to build snooker clubs and take busloads of teens on self-esteem building trips to Alton Towers.

Where do you start unpacking all of this? Let’s look first at the ‘badness’ indicators identified in the IPPR report which examined the lifestyles of fifteen year olds. Our young people drink and take more drugs, get into more fights and have sex earlier than their peers in Italy, Germany and France. This is apparently caused by the breakdown of families and communities. This argument is partly predicated on the finding that only 64 per cent of English youngsters sit down regularly with their families to eat compared with 93 per cent of Italian kids.

First off let me just say that, having grown up in an Italian neighbourhood in Sydney, mealtimes in Italian households are enormous fun. Children are allowed to have a thimbleful of red wine topped up with lemonade, everyone talks at once, you can spill as much pasta sauce down your front as you like and greens are optional. Contrast this with Anglo Saxon mealtimes where you are not even allowed to put ketchup on your food, no matter how unappetising it looks and you have to maintain silence as your dad moans about his shit job and/or is glued to Watchdog. You are not even allowed to wear your iPod at the dinner table. Duh! No wonder children would rather be outside on the freezing cold streets with a portion of chips and a coke.

The IPPR found an ‘increasing disconnect’ between children and adults which they wildly concluded ‘has left British teenagers increasingly vulnerable to failure’. Wah? How do they work that out? Here’s the thing – once you enter secondary school, you do not need your parents for anything except money and as a permanent reminder that you should leave home at the very first opportunity if you wish to remain sane. You will come to appreciate them at about thirty-five and see that they were right about most things, but in the meantime, you have an awful lot of living to do and a great many of your own mistakes to make. You are perfectly capable of discerning right from wrong as society ordains it but, as the new generation, it is your job to push those boundaries as far as they can feasibly go without civilisation as we know it collapsing. In short, it is your duty to tear the world a new arse hole. No es la ciencia del cohete!

All this cojones about adults not knowing how to parent and children not knowing how to behave is pure obfuscation. Yes there are vulnerable children and dysfunctional families but more than at any other time in history? I don’t think so. Has it occurred to no one that poverty and the rapidly increasing gap between the haves and have nots might be playing a part? The report claims that British kids are even more enthusiastic about consumerism than American kids – and they were brought up in shopping malls! Our kids are more ‘brand aware’ and place a higher value on goods and possessions. Is this the fault of parents and children? Anyone want to be the first to embrace ethical marketing – Nike? McDonald’s? Mattel? Anyone?

I blame a lack of decent role models today. What use the wimpy Cold Play or goody-goody Beyoncé? They couldn’t get arrested, quite literally. Where are the Timothy Learys, the Janis Joplins, the Jimi Hendrixes, the Jim Morrisons, the Rolling Stonesies? The popsters of today are all drinking Krug with Tony Blair or Evian on their Stairmasters rather than rolling spliffs in the toilets of Buck House and exposing themselves on stage. Young people simply don’t have anything to aspire to. Actors in West End musicals all now wear clothes! Pete Doherty cannot hold up an entire anti-establishment. In fact, last time anyone checked, he was having trouble holding up his index finger for long enough for someone to put ink on it. We need some movements is what we need, some genuine protests so the young people can learn about solidarity. Whatever happened to ‘Keep warm this winter –set fire to something?’ There’s the spirit. Let’s make us some civil disobedience. That will ignite the community spirit. If you will excuse me, I have placards to make. Now if I can just remember where I put my poster paints…

Lovely commemorative flag from


Dave Hill said...

You scamp!

kris said...

So kids see ASBOs as a badge of honour? I bet they don't when after the 5,000th time they have breached and been hauled up before the Mags they get a proper judge who says enough and sentences the little lamb to a stretch in Feltham.

Council officers can get fixated on a particular kid- and end up through an inordinate amount of time and resources dealing with one jerk. More often than not, they still manage to fuck the case up. They don't seem to appreciate that it is probably more effective to deal with as a tenancy issue and seek to evict on the basis of ASB rather than to constantly returning to the Mags.

When it keeps going to the Mags- and the judges are obliged to have custody as a last resort, judges are left sending our young friends to the council's Young Offender's Team for a game of pool and a doughnut.

If, on the other hand, more emphasis was placed on yanking their council tenancy, how much you wanna bet mom and dad suddenly get VERY interested in managing young chav's behaviour?

I think it's because the local authorities take the repeated Mags route because it makes them look like the Sherriff of Tombstone- when we'd all rather just have the solution please.

That's so pants said...

I have a couple of problems with this Kris - You can't assume that all, or even most youth disorder is carried out by kids from council estates. I know, and I'm sure you do too, quite a few middle class, home owning families who have kids they can't control. A big percentage of 'social housing' in Hackney is transferred over to housing associations who can very easily evict tenants for anti-social behaviour. The problem is that they then have to be rehoused by a council (not necessarily their home council), usually in substandard private tenancies. This tends to exacerbate the problem for the young people involved because it makes their circumstances considerably worse and they can be scapegoated by their family, who may already be a major part of the problem. The desired outcome - a wake up call - is rarely achieved because there is nothing to wake up for. I remember a mass eviction on the Kingsmead Estate in Hackney when I lived there some years ago. Five 'problem families' whose children were terrorising residents were evicted at huge cost. It solved the problem for Kingsmead at the time because these kids were much more powerful as a group than they were individually and splitting them up certainly diffused their influence but it didn't help the kids. I think one of the biggest problems is that the general population have bought wholesale the notion that kids are bored because of lack of youth provision when the reality is that they are bored because of lack of stimulus - there is a big difference. The quality of education is the single greatest thing that stands between young people and opportunity. You are absolutely right about the pool and doughnuts - that is also part of the problem - inexpert youth work, especially in the poorest parts of the country.

Steve_East9 said...

Kris gets it all wrong - like so many people in our our information-starved society - when he just assumes that people committing 'anti-social behaviour' are 1. Those living on Council estates and 2. Youths.

First of all, the ASBO legislation was enacted primarily with ADULTS in mind and was specifically enacted with the proviso that its use against under-18s would be the *exception* - rather than the rule, as it has turned out.

I have lived on 'Council' estates in London all of my 48 years of life and the overwhelming majority of those causing distress and disturbance to others have been well over 18 years old and very often people who don't even live on the estate/in the streets where they off-load their behaviour - car-dumpers, rubbish dumpers et al.

Noosa Lee has already made valid points about teen behaviour and 'tenancy' issues and the bankrupt nature of that route.

I want to deal with the so-called 'parenting' issue and how blinkered and irrelevant this often is.

How do we expect the parents that do exist and are around - often living a daily struggle to make ends meet - to 'parent' young people who are so alienated by a society that:
- is gripped by greed, self-interest and destructive consumerism
- has an education system that often fails to stimulate that big proportion of its 'consumers' whose heads are already majorly fucked-up by living in family circumstances involving drug and alcohol addiction; sexual and physical abuse; long histories of failure among close relatives - and the knowledge that *only* if they can overcome those obstacles and get to higher education is there any likelihood of a half-decent job at some distant time in the future
- government policies and programmes that have failed miserably to replace the vocational training and apprenticeships of years gone by.

What does this alienation lead to among our young people?

It leads to behaviour that is ripe for causing other people concern and fear - hanging about on the streets and in stair-wells, in fact anywhere but home, and certainly not the *very few* community facilities that do exist but which operate in a way that merely adds to those kids feelings of frustration and alienation.

So why hang about on the streets or in stair wells - even on cold winter nights? Well, there are all kinds of reasons why the 'family home' is just not an option. Put simply it does their head in, ensures a continuing and nightmarish level of stress and just feeds even further their alienation and possibly pushes them further down the road of abandonment and even greater likelihood of a brush with the law.

And don't take any bar-room comment as proof of the above - look at statistics for mental distress and suicide among teenagers. It is truly frightening.

Now not all inner-city, alienated youth do drugs but a very large number do and put simply it is to get out of it, not to 'cause trouble', but get some time where they can shut-out the pure stress of their lives and what an unspoken struggle almost every day is.

I've heard drugs called many things by youth but by far the scariest for me is 'my brain food' - that really says it all. Whether it's 'Monk', 'Blessie', 'Bugle' or plain old £2 'pills', a bottle of Bud, a can of Kia-Ora, some 'tunes' and bantering chat and they put themselves on another level away from the 'shit' that happens.

Frankly, ASBOs are a dangerous irrelevance to all of the above.

Thirty years of globalisation and the even more intense follow-up of Thatcher's policies by this bunch of war criminals and its attendant levels of poverty and inequality has produced - and will go on producing - what is a kind of barbarism.

Any suggestion that this 'depression' rests exclusively among the 'alienated' or 'have-nots' is also a dangerous illusion. Even among those with 'good' jobs, equity-rich homes and relatively quiet streets are no less uneasy.
Otherwise, why did a recent mass poll of 30-50 year old UK citizens elicit the answer that *only* 23% of them want to be here in the UK when they hit 60?

It isn't just in disastrous and aggressive foreign policy that UK governments mimic the USA, but in the overweening power of Big Business in every facet of daily life and the impoverishment of peoples lives in the workplace when they do have work - the smashing of 'solidarity' and collective good will, the destruction of formerly protective and supportive public sector employment conditions.

Honestly, I don't want to be here when I'm 60 either.

That's so pants said...

I guess it just shows how resilient society is. Every idiotic initiative by this increasingly clueless government is met with a stonewall of resistence by absolutely everyone. When will they learn?