Guest post by Scott Bartle, Brent Green Party
Guest post by Scott Bartle
|Resistance to poverty|
Guest post by Scott Bartle
In March, Cllr Tom Miller, Brent Labour’s ‘Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities’ announced in the local newspaper a £2million splurge on CCTV and expansion of the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).
This week, it was announced that the council has extended the PSPO ‘borough-wide’, with further claims from Cllr Miller of obtaining the ability to:
“create a borough that residents feel safe and protected in, and the introduction of this borough-wide PSPO will boost our efforts to get rid of street drinking and anti-social behaviour in Brent, whilst making sure that those who need help for substance abuse are given the support they need” LINK
Protection Orders (PSPOs) were created under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and allow councils to criminalise, non-criminal behaviour. Where Anti Social Behaviour Orders (Abs's), introduced 16 years earlier in 1998 (under the Crime and Disorder Act) were directed at individuals, the PSPOs are zonal and cover anyone within them.
PSPO’s are instead selected as a means to tackle called ‘undesirable or antisocial behaviour’, as they require less consultation than byelaws and are easier to enforce. A breach in a byelaw requires a trip to court & to be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, whereas breach of a PSPO is determined merely by a ‘reasonable belief’. There is also limited scope to scrutinise or challenge a PSPO despite their use to target minority or vulnerable groups and curtail their human rights.
Last year Brent Council offered a consultation on extending the use of PSPOs as a ‘crime reduction initiative’ around Chichele Road in Cricklewood. On this occasion, the target of the PSPO were people congregating on a road seeking work at a place where there was this tradition for nearly 150 years. Historically these were Irish people, but a recent Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) suggested it was now people originating from Eastern Europe. Those who offered people work were from a variety of backgrounds, including British, Asian, Eastern European and others.
The results of the consultation indicated that a whopping 91.67% of people strongly agreed / agree with extension of the the PSPO scheme. This left only 4.17% of people who strongly disagreed / disagree with it continuing. As such, the Labour run council, in disservice to the origins of its party name voted for an extension of the PSPO with a nonchalance for workers best placed within an England of a century ago.
“We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet.” E.M Forster (Howards End, 1910).
Lies, dammed lies and statistics
As with most statistics, the devils in the detail and its noteworthy the 4.17% who responded and strongly disagreed, were actually only one person (myself). This left only 23 people who strongly agreed to the scheme and agreed with the proposals. 14 of these people left comments and it is these voices of Cricklewood that are worthy of further examination.
Voices from Cricklewood
- Male, aged 25–34 identifying as Asian British / Pakistani
“It’s necessary. This whole thing about people picking up casual workers causes the roads to get blocked as well during times of high traffic and this can cause buses to be delayed. It’s also problematic when the people looking for work just stand on the pavements and are in the way of people trying to walk and get somewhere. Really, this PSPO should be a permanent thing”
This person’s concerns related to public infrastructure, claims that people seeking work were responsible for bus delays and the use of pavements.
2. Male, aged 45–54 identifying as Mixed/Dual heritage, White & Asian.
“I have heard too many local anecdotes from neighbours that there are still too many instances of casual workers causing public disturbances in the local area.”
The definition of anecdote is ‘accounts regarded as unreliable or hearsay’. For many, rush hour for most people is a time of public disturbance.
3. Female, aged 35–44 who did not wish to disclose ethnicity
“I don’t think its safe when I see large group of casual workers coming off a coach or waiting to be picked up on the road”
This person felt scared upon witnessing the demographics of casual workers. It is unsaid if this is a fear of men, or a fear of particular men (i.e. people from eastern Europe). Yet, perhaps conflating the behaviour of a small minority of violent men with all men or people from Europe.
4. Male, 55–64 identifying as White British
“It should be applied wherever and to the extent necessary.”
No qualifications but to the ‘extent necessary’, might be everything or nothing.
5. Male, 45–55, identifying as White British.
“I think this is important to continue to help improve the safety of people in the area”
This person cites safety which is relational to an unspecified danger. Is this person also scared of men or just ‘mostly Eastern European men’?
6. Male, 55–64, identifying as White British
“What needs to be stopped is groups (almost exclusively male) of people continually and regularly gathering and drinking on the streets (particularly Cricklewood Broadway & Cricklewood Lane (particularly on the grassed area outside B&Q)”
This person identifies ‘street-drinkers’ as a problem, which is nothing to do with workers on Chichele Road. As detailed earlier, ‘street-drinking’ is an indicator of other social problems.
7. Male, 55–63, identifying as White British
“This has to be kept going to safeguard surrounding areas as well as Cricklewood. Thank you.”
‘Safeguarding’ occurs a response to a perception of risk, danger or fear.
8. Female, 35–44, identifying as White British
“I would be very grateful if this were extended. I am a woman who lives on (a nearby) road and used to feel very intimidated by the often large groups of men congregating on the corner of Sheldon Road and Chichele Road and stopped walking down Sheldon Road as a result. Since the PSPO order came into effect, the sizes of the groups has reduced and I feel able to use the road again”.
This person felt intimidated by ‘large groups of men’, over-estimating danger?
9. Male, 45–54, identifying as Mixed / Dual Heritage.
“It’s really important to have this in place and enforced properly. The gangs of men who still gather there are very off putting to the local residents and businesses. And note they still gather there despite the order currently in force.”
This person highlights the PSPO as ineffective, but wishes to prevent people or ‘business’ from experiencing ‘off-putting’ or unpleasant feelings.
10. Female, 45–54, identifying as White British
“There are still large numbers of men waiting on the corner of Sheldon and Chichele Roads for large parts of the day. I haven’t seen any evidence of them being moved on by the police.”
Another person reports that the PSPO has been ineffective.
11. Female, 35–44, identifying as White British
“I would still like something to be done about rough sleepers in Gladstone Park. I would also suggest that casual labourers are not the only source of ‘antisocial behaviour’ in Cricklewood. We are subject to near weekly racist abuse as Muslims on Cricklewood Broadway and in Gladstone Park — I do not walk in the park alone with my kids any more and have not done so for over 6 years because every time I went someone said something offensive to me. I am English. I am local. I do not feel safe or comfortable on Cricklewood’s streets. Please do something about this.”
A local woman who doesn’t feel safe on Cricklewood streets or Gladstone Park because of regular abuse relating to their religion, perhaps as a consequence of wider societal issues.
12. Female, 55–64, identifying as White British
Without the PSPO in Cricklewood it is intimidating trying to walk in the area because of the large groups of migrants loitering looking for work. They also hang around the street corners at the weekend but when there is no work, drinking and loitering and it is not pleasant.
Here the fear of ‘large groups’ has been specified as ‘migrants’, indicating support for a PSPO based upon wider negative societal attitudes. ‘Loitering’ is an interesting term as its defined as ‘without purpose’ yet these people at Chichele road were ‘looking for work’.
13. Male, 55–64, who did not wish to disclose ethnicity.
“Please extend to include undesirables, loitering dealing in questionable substance on the street”.
This person does not specify the ‘undesirables’ and those ‘dealing in questionable substance’ are by definition not the people looking for work.
14. Female, 45–54, identifying as White British.
Situation better but still not cured. Can be very intimidating to walk along the pavement where these people gather. Please extend the PSPO
This person, whilst supporting the PSPO indicates that its use has been ineffective. This person wishes for a PSPO to solve intimidation and fear of people gathering.
The intention of the PSPO was to prevent people congregating on a road seeking work, at a place where people have done so for nearly 150 years. Yet the voices from Cricklewood introduced us to people in fear of ‘men, migrants or groups of people’ as well as ‘loiterers’ and ‘undesirables’. The voices of Cricklewood sought for the the PSPO to be used as a a mechanism ‘where-ever’ for the benefit of ‘business’ to tackle social problems ranging from ‘drinking’ to ‘racism’ on ‘hearsay’. Yet similar to ‘crackdowns’ from time immemorial on other societal ills such as ‘gambling’, ‘drugs’ or ‘prostitution’, voices of Cricklewood identified that the PSPO was ineffective.
So what to do?
Across the country, from Newcastle down to, Brighton, Exeter or Hackney The Green Party have been vocal in their objection to PSPOs. This is because CCTV & PSPOs merely displace social issues & criminalise people who are of minority groups or are vulnerable.
The voices from Cricklewood indicated a number of people feeling scared and intimidated walking around their local streets. Yet, the people themselves identified that these issues were wider than people seeking work. Racist or religious abuse are considered hate crimes, yet despite government initiatives reports of hate crime are said to be increasing. Societal issues can’t be tackled by a PSPO anymore than they could be tackled by an ASBO.
If we take the current headline example of ‘street-drinking’, In guidance produced for Police Commissioners, Mark Ward of Alcohol Concern highlighted that ‘Street drinking’ is often an indicator of other problems.At the end of August, Brent Food Bank told the Brent and Kilburn Times that provision of food for people in poverty has increased by 200% in 3 years. Shelter reported a there are millions only one pay check away from not paying their mortgage or rent. Understandable, given average rents in Brent are 75% of average earnings and homelessness has doubled between 2009 and 2014. In addition, Brent has the 13th highest rate of unemployment in the country.
People will need to seek work to get money and support their families and the ‘men’ or ‘migrants’ of Chichele road are no different. Others, might understandably struggle with the pressures that society places upon them and turn to ‘street-drinking’ or end up homeless. In cold weather, Alcohol Concern report that the people ‘street-drinking’ do so because they are homeless.
The common thread of what does work to help ‘street drinkers’, according to best practice relates to the building of trusting relationships. Coercion in any relationship can be toxic and it is understood that legal coercion, such as that occurring as a consequence of PSPOs aggravate factors associated with social exclusion and undermine individual motivation to change.
Claims such as that made by Cllr Miller above, that people should be criminalised for their own support or protection is an example of what sociologist John J Rodger describes as the criminalisation of social policy. It is evidence of a neoliberal philosophy in action, where the criminal justice system and its associated sanctions are used in place of social welfare. Furthermore, placing people at risk of a criminal record and a £1000 fine as offered by a PSPO burdens people with more problems to get back on track.
If the problem is people congregating for work: how about provision of somewhere safe to do so? If the problem is littering (which is classified as anti-social behaviour in the ‘crime’ figures) then is it not the councils responsibility to provide bins? If roads are congested, isn’t Transport for London & the cities infrastructure under shared ownership?
If a report in the paper was true that people were ‘defecating’ or ‘urinating’ outside, how about Cllr’s remembering that the provision of public toilets is vital public service. Brent is similar to other Councils across the country who do not see toilets as a priority. Brent has a mere 12 public toilets listed that do not include Library’s leisure centres or the civic centre. Yet its not just these workers who are affected, its older people and those with disabilities.
If we recognise a theme of all of these issues relates to poverty, then its time to vote for a political party that will offer a basic income. In the meantime, this borough-wide PSPO needs to be scrapped as criminalising people affected by the poor decisions of government is not a proportionate response. Especially given, the Cricklewood Consultation indicated that implementation of the ‘borough-wide PSPO’ may in part be based upon both fear of and negative societal attitudes towards people perceived as ‘migrants’.