Ending gang and youth violence: unreason at the heart of coalition policy

Jon Shute and Juanjo Medina
Friday, 20 December 2013

Last year, we criticised Ending Gang and Youth Violence  (EGYV) as being an un-evidenced deterrence-focussed ‘blunderbuss’ response to partly understood and often misrepresented issues.

It ignored scholarly UK work on the definition of ‘gang’, elided gang, guns and youth violence in flat contradiction to its own commissioned work, and committed £10 million to a range of ill-defined projects without any commitment to meaningful evaluation.

Two years on, our worst fears have been realised.

The main Annual Report 2013 released on 13 December repeats the confused/confusing approach of the original paper:  49 pages, 60 action points, dozens of initiatives, many of which are existing generic Department of Work and Pensions or Home Office programmes.

Six glib text boxes describe a small range of initiatives from the 29 initial pilot sites.

An accompanying Review 2012-13 document published simultaneously by the Home Office promises further detail of ‘achievement’ and ‘success’ but only offers the following information:

  1. That the only effort at direct evaluation was from the funders themselves (the Home Office), which amounted to (i) two online surveys of ‘local contacts’ - mostly community safety managers as opposed to service providers - and (ii) up to three telephone interviews with the same contacts. Only 10/29 (34%) completed both surveys, and 13/29 (44.8%) provided an interview. Six trial areas ‘did not contribute to the research in any way’.
  2. That the statutory and voluntary organisations that were possibly heavily dependent on the EGYV funding were reported to perceive the experience of being funded as broadly ‘positive’ with significant caveats.
  3. That due to the perceived impossibility of an actually eminently-achievable independent evaluation, the Home Office instead elected to examine police recorded youth crime in project areas over 2012-13. It found that most forms of youth violence fell to the same extent that they had fallen in the year preceding EGYV and, indeed, in most other communities in England and Wales.

Despite this, both Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith make Orwellian claims of success in the ministerial foreword to the main document:

The initiative is working, the crimes that the programme aims to tackle are diminishing… the programme has led to more effective leadership and a greater sense of strategic direction. That has helped those on the front-line increase the effectiveness of their work. And that has contributed to the drop in youth violence’.

The first and last clause of this quote are in no way supported by the available data, and in that sense, should be seen as outright disinformation and an exercise in what we might term ‘post-truth governance’.

In sum, in the era of austerity, £10 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on initiatives that have not been described or evaluated, and where grandiose success claims are made despite precisely no evidence of understanding or achievement.

Seen in these terms, the coalition’s use of the term ‘gang’ can only be seen as a convenient rhetorical label for inciting public fear, scapegoating structural abandonment of and justifying increased controls over marginal populations, and for further stigmatising entire communities.

This is both shameful and appalling.

Related items

Event on 3rd March, 2014: Becoming the 'other': Challenging the race and gang nexus. Click here to register (no fee)

Jon Shute is Lecturer and Juanjo Medina is Senior Lecturer, both at the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, University of Manchester.