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Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week – [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Minister has obviously been in her position for only a short time, so we will all be gentle with her today, but there is a good conversation to be had about how we measure these things, which I will come to.

It is a hidden epidemic. Any constituent will say that antisocial behaviour is an important issue, but the stats do not bear that out. Polling by YouGov found that a third of the UK public had experienced an increase in antisocial behaviour in their area, with just 1% believing that the problem had decreased a lot.

Crime and its causes are complicated and we do not have time to go into all of them now. Antisocial behaviour tends to be localised—whether it is noise, fly-tipping or graffiti—and there is a correlation between antisocial behaviour hotspots and deprivation. The rolling away of some parts of public services has had an impact on the support that is given to people with mental health issues and on youth services, which we have talked about many times, and that has had a knock-on impact on the prevalence of antisocial behaviour. Where antisocial behaviour is rife, other crime follows. We know that it can be the starting point for real issues building up in communities.

Since the 2019 Government came to power, crime overall is up 18% and prosecutions are down 18%. Rates of arson are spiralling: incidents are up by 90,000 compared with 2019 but the charge rate is just 4.3%, which is down from 8.3% in 2015, and nearly 60% of investigations—more than 280,000 cases—are closed without a suspect being identified. Arson does huge damage to local communities. It ruins property, of course, and it ruins people’s sense of safety and pride in their community, so the vicious cycle continues. When I was in the north-east, there was a particular issue with arson that local people were very concerned about.

On the sense that nothing will be done if these issues are reported, that is sadly now the case when it comes to some crimes. Recent figures on car theft, for example, show that just one in 100 thefts of cars resulted in a charge. If someone’s car is stolen, and only one in 100 get a charge, the chances of them reporting antisocial behaviour and thinking that something could be done are quite low. Recent figures showed that in nearly half of neighbourhoods in the country, no burglaries had been solved by the police in the last three years at all, which is truly shocking and shames us, and speaks to some of the struggles that the police are having in doing the common-sense policing that we all want them to be doing.

In this context, the presence of neighbourhood police officers is very important. There are over 7,000 fewer neighbourhood officers on the frontline now than there were 12 years ago. There is only one neighbourhood officer for every 2,400 people in this country now, whereas 10 years ago there was one per 1,600 people. That does make a difference.

For the first time, the Government have introduced a new metric for measuring neighbourhood crime, which is a combination of four other crimes: vehicle-related theft, domestic burglary, theft from a person, and robbery of personal property. It is an interesting measure. The Government will say that neighbourhood crime has fallen in the last year, but the metric does not include any level of antisocial behaviour and it does not include bike theft, criminal damage or arson, so it is not a clear and complete picture of what neighbourhood crime is. I ask the Minister to look at that issue in her new role.

We know that a third of 999 calls are now about mental health emergencies and the police just cannot cope; they are responding to mental health issues and not to the crimes that they should be investigating. They spend significant time dealing with other crises in the community, and the impact of noise, graffiti, fly-tipping, drug dealing and vandalism is felt more and more acutely.

Good work is being done in patches, and I am sure that all of us would pay tribute to the police and crime commissioners who are working hard to make a difference. When I was in Northumbria, I saw the rural crime network with police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness, which seemed to be working really effectively. When I was in Cardiff, I learned of a reduction in antisocial behaviour through the Step into Sport programme; my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn mentioned the importance of sport earlier. In Merseyside, there is a youth diversion fund, which more than 6,500 young people engage with. These are pockets of good practice. Sadly, because the police simply do not have the resources to do what they want to do, they are only pockets and not the norm.

I hope that neighbourhood policing will be a real focus for the Minister. Last week, I had the pleasure of welcoming some police community support officers to Parliament to celebrate the 20 years since PCSOs were introduced. That was under the last Labour Government and Lord Blunkett, who was there to talk to them. Those PCSOs’ insights were really interesting: they knew their patch inside out, they had built up relationships with local people, and they were able to intervene to de-escalate and tackle some of the issues of antisocial behaviour in a really effective way. Some of them told me stories of how they had dealt with kids who had been antisocial who then, later in life, came up to them in the street and told them how proud they were of what they had become, in part because they had a good relationship with a PCSO.

However, the number of PCSOs has been cut by nearly half since 2010. The peculiar thing about that is that it has not been a Government policy; it has just happened because of cuts to services. It was not deliberate. I ask the Minister to look at PCSOs and consider whether we need to restore their numbers. I think that we do, because they are the eyes and ears of the police.

As I have said, hard data is not collected properly. I have made a series of freedom of information requests across the country about how forces deal with antisocial behaviour. They all do it in different ways. The issue needs gripping at the centre, with some good measurements in place.