Regular readers of this blog will know that I have long advocated a public health approach to mental and physical health issues. Crudely put this means moving the work, wherever possible, from curing ill people to preventing illness. Doing this has huge health benefits and it also has huge financial benefits.
Health prevention saves, over a number of years, £15 for every £1 spent. This is almost as important as the improvement in people’s lives from living better and more fulfilling lives. Unless we do this our NHS will buckle under the strain as we will never be able to put in to the NHS budget the amounts of money that will be required.
This approach is not just for health but could apply to many other areas of life. This morning I have been discussing with our Elected Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and her adviser, Prof John Ashton, the work that needs to be done with public health in the field of crime and especially in the field of violent and knife wielding youth crime.
The simple approach is just to link serious crime with drugs and poverty. There are clear linkages here and these are undeniable. However, most people who live in poverty are not criminals at all and certainly are not serious criminals. The life that too many people in our communities’ face is a grim hand to mouth existence in which there is very little sunshine and very little opportunity.
Such conditions provide the breeding ground in which people can move from despair to crime and from minor crime to major crime. Youth violence breeds on this but there are many more factors in play than money. Chief of these appear to be a lack of self esteem linked with a lack of clear family identity. Young men and women from the age of 12 up move into families composed of gangs, they mark out territory like a pack of feral dogs and carry knives for a sense of swagger and the position that a blade can give them.
For many of these people there is now little hope. Most of them are too old to change and have been caught up in a spiral of violence which only be addressed by appropriate action by the Police and within the judicial system. One can only hope that we reform the prison system to ensure that prisons become places where through education and support people are weaned off crime and instead moved to become good citizens with a role and stake in society.
That leaves us needing practical solutions to stop the movement of young people through the system into a criminal lifestyle. This must be done by concentrating on all those who are disadvantaged but with a special emphasis on those who are most likely, because of their background, to move up the escalator into big crime.
We need to make sure that the homes and neighbourhoods they live in are clean, safe and well managed. We need to expand youth services to ensure that children and young adults are diverted away from bad things into good things. We need to be much more supportive of the work of teachers who struggle to bring both order and education into the lives of too many children. We need to invest in children’s mental health services so that problems can be identified and dealt with early in a child’s life before they become ingrained.
I am sure that there are people who will read this and who will say, “typical bloody liberal. Mollycoddling kids when what they need is a good hiding or a spell with hard discipline”. Guilty as charged! Those who take an evidence-based approach to policy making would not agree with them. The countries with the lowest crime rates are the ones like those in Scandinavia where the most is spent on good quality services and prevention. The Countries with the worst crime rates are the ones like the USA which spend the least on public services and rely on an expensive justice system which delivers retribution not change.
I was impressed with the sorts of things that Jane Kennedy and John Ashton were telling me this morning. As I understand it there will be a big roll out of conferences and meetings in the autumn seeking to bring all the partners together behind this proactive approach. They deserve to succeed and we should all support their work because we cannot go on the way we are. Given our present national policies from successive governments the thin blue line will crack even if Johnson does give the system the money for 20,000 more police officers. That is an outcome that none of us can allow.