Socialist Worker

Asbos: why they’re part of the problem

As Labour argues that Asbos will solve the problems of run-down estates, Tash Shifrin answers questions on anti-social behaviour

Issue No. 1947

Concerned neighbours rallied round to support Craig Redway, 15, (right)  after he was arrested and locked in police cells overnight twice in five days for breaching an interim Asbo in Camden, north London, last week	 (Pic: Camden New

Concerned neighbours rallied round to support Craig Redway, 15, (right) after he was arrested and locked in police cells overnight twice in five days for breaching an interim Asbo in Camden, north London, last week (Pic: Camden New

What’s wrong with Asbos?

Anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) can criminalise people when they have committed no crime. They can be imposed by magistrates, banning just about any kind of activity without a jury trial, solely on the basis of hearsay evidence.

People who breach their Asbos can then be sent to jail for up to five years. Human rights campaign Liberty has called them the “older cousin” of control orders.

The definition of anti-social behaviour is so vague that hundreds of people are being Asboed for behaviour that few people would consider anti-social, or where the person concerned clearly needs help and support.

In the grimmest case, a suicidal woman was banned from jumping in rivers. Kids have been banned from playing football.

The numbers of these cases are increasing. The aim of tackling anti-social behaviour does not justify threatening innocent people with jail if they breach their Asbo.

Doesn’t the government say Asbos are about solving the problems on deprived council estates?

Anti-social behaviour can make life a misery. But there is no evidence to show that Asbos are reducing serious anti-social behaviour, such as harassment, or dangerous activities like joyriding.

The government’s only measure of success in tackling anti-social behaviour is the number of Asbos issued. Ministers count all the bizarre Asbos — banning a farmer’s pigs from straying or, in one case, a woman from wielding rhubarb — as evidence that anti-social behaviour is being reduced.

MPs on the Welsh Affairs committee branded this a “crude” system.

Already 42 percent of Asbos have been breached — hardly a sign that they work.

Asbos do not make people answer for actual offences they may have committed.

Someone threatening their neighbour will not be properly tried or punished for this. Instead, they may be jailed for straying into an area from which they are banned.

Asbos don’t deal with the causes of anti-social behaviour. They don’t include support for individuals to change. They don’t provide communities with desperately needed youth and community services to prevent people getting involved in anti-social behaviour.

In some cases, Asbos are being seen as a “badge of honour” among young people, rather than a disincentive to behave badly.

Tony Blair’s government is not tackling a central (and obvious) problem on council estates—that of deprivation.

It refuses to hand over money needed to repair and upgrade council housing unless tenants vote for privatisation.

Meanwhile the income of the poorest 10 percent has fallen in real terms under New Labour.

What about problems such as racism and violence?

Of course racism and violent behaviour are wrong. But there are existing laws against both. There’s no need for extra measures that bypass basic human rights and attack civil liberties. Asbos don’t tackle the root causes of either racism or individual violence.

Why are children’s charities so worried about Asbos?

Half of all Asbos have been slapped on under 18s. This is leading to more children being locked up — the number of under-18s in jail is rising steeply.

“Naming and shaming” can destroy a child’s future, making it impossible for them to turn their lives around. It also leaves them prey to vigilantes.

Is there an argument that Asbos are anti-social?

Yes. Asbos are demonising young people and other vulnerable groups such as mentally ill people, stereotyping young people who “hang around” in hooded tops or baseball caps as troublemakers.

Asbos divide communities and create a climate of fear and hate.

For more information on Asbos and the campaign, go to

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Article information

Sat 16 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1947
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