Over the last week there have been several news stories running that talk about one of the new elements of gang policing that are being trialed in North London: the ability for gang members families to be evicted from their homes*.
The current scheme that is being trialed in North London is part of Operation Shield, an element of the Metropolitan Police’s wider Integrated Gang Strategy. In this whole families can be evicted from their council houses if one person is gang involved. This is following on from the 2014 ASB, Crime and Policing Act which brought in new legislation on Absolute Grounds for Possession of secure and assured tenancies where ASB or criminality has been proven in another Court. This change made it easier for, not only the Local Authority to take action against their tenants, but also for Registered Providers and private landlords.
All the literature around gangs point to the fact that gang involved young people tend to have experienced multiple family difficulties including poverty, family separation, bereavement, domestic violence, imprisonment, and alcohol and substance misuse (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2013). Young et al. (2013) found that most families of gang members in their study were “beleaguered”. This is such an evocative word which makes real sense in this context. Dictionary Synonyms include; hard-pressed, troubled, in difficulties, under pressure, under stress, with one’s back to the wall, in a tight corner, in a tight spot.
In the Government’s report Ending Gang and Youth Violence (2011) they give case studies of ‘typical’ gang involved young people**. They use the example of Boy X who was a child survivor of domestic violence with a whole host of other adverse childhood experiences. In the report these adverse experiences are usefully highlighted in visual format. Let’s take a look and imagine that consider the state making him and his family homeless in the teenage years, with peak age for gang involvement is 15yrs (Sharp, Aldridge, Medina, Britain 2006).harp, Aldridge, Medina, Britain 2006).
So let’s take the case of Boy X as typical. So the mother had multiple problems, including substance misuse, teenage pregnancy. The mum of Boy X was regularly beaten and often in front of her son. This continued for several years, however when this was not happening then the father was absent. The effects of domestic abuse on the mother would have been widespread and varied with a large proportion (40%) of survivors enduring ongoing mental health issues, damaged self-esteem and confidence. So, what happens to this mother, who has managed to keep a home even after the domestic violence, then compounded by having a gang involved child. Instead of offering support and compassion at this time, it is now being proposed that at this vulnerable moment the whole family needs to be put in an even more precarious situation by being made homeless.
A whole family punishment.
Inherent in this policy is the notion that housing is a luxury rather than a necessity. That only those who are seen to deserve homes should be given them, particularly in the case of social housing. Let’s not forget that in this case it is not that the whole family who are gang involved, there only needs to be one person, who statistically speaking is most likely to be the teenage son, for then the whole family to be made homeless. I wonder whether they are seen as collateral damage or whether they are seen as deserving of this penalty?
It is important to consider the intersection of poverty and gang involvement. It is not as if families who are evicted from social housing will likely afford to go and rent privately the next week, particularly in London. What happens to a family who is evicted from social housing?
Some boroughs have written their own guidance for gang intervention and have noted that a potential consequence of tenancy action is that it is costly, and “can lead to further issues such as young people becoming looked after (LAC)” (H&F Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation Partnership Strategy Synopsis 2016). So in this the parent is taken out of the equation, as a homeless adult who is not eligible for help, whereas the young people are taken into the care of the state.
What happens to the discarded parent/carer?
It strikes me as an intervention designed by people who have completely lost faith in the ability of supportive interventions to inspire change. When all interventions that are currently available (or currently funded, perhaps more to the point) have been tried, as have all criminal charges and consequences, then turf a vulnerable family onto the street. That will either make them change, disperse them into care, or make them so on their knees they are concentrating on basic survival over gang activity. It is a grim Victorian way of dealing with social problems.
I imagine that for a proportion of gang involved people having their family threatened with eviction creates a ‘rock bottom’ moment, a cross roads that inspires change. However for those that it doesn’t, what happens to them? To the parents left homeless, to the siblings taken into care? To the already beleaguered, the already vulnerable people this would be a huge setback which I can only see as costing more to the state to sort out eventually. Moreover, it is the lack of compassion and empathy that is striking. It seems to be an extension of the hostile environment principles that lie at the heart of this government’s way of dealing with people who don’t fit neatly into the ‘ideal citizen’ box.
*See for instance For instance in last Saturday’s Guardian there was a story; Gangs’ families should lose council homes – Home Office minister. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/23/gangs-families-should-lose-council-homes-urges-minister?CMP=share_btn_tw