Cameron: Tackle youth crime with love

Young people involved in crime need love as well as punishment to teach them to behave properly, David Cameron declared today.

The Conservative leader insisted that while anti-social behaviour, violence and crime were wrong, “simply blaming the kids doesn’t get us very far”.

He insisted that measures such as anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and government targets on reducing crime would not help – instead, voluntary groups should be allowed to work with young people on an emotional level.

“We’ve got be optimistic about young people, otherwise we’ll forever be dealing with the short-term symptoms instead of the long-term causes,” Mr Cameron said.

He highlighted the recent campaign against ‘hoodies’, the hooded tops worn by many young people, as a sign of how government had failed to grasp the key issues behind youth crime.

“The hoodie is a response to a problem, it’s the not cause itself. We – the people in suits – often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters,” he told the Centre for Social Justice.

“But hoodies are more defensive than offensive. They’re a way to stay invisible in the street. In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in.”

The failure to understand what hoodies meant was symptomatic of many people’s failure to understand the causes of crime, Mr Cameron said – but without this, they could not hope to change people’s behaviour.

“Justice is about setting boundaries, and stepping over those boundaries should have painful consequences. But that’s not the whole answer,” he said.

“To build a safe and civilised society for the long term, we have to look at what goes on inside the boundaries. If the consequence of stepping over the line should be painful, then staying within the bounds of good behaviour should be pleasant.

“And I believe that inside those boundaries we have to show a lot more love. We have to think about the emotional quality of the work we do with young people.”

Penny Nicholls, strategy director for the Children’s Society, welcomed the Conservative leader’s comments as a “wake-up call” on how young people should be treated.

“We have never condoned criminal behaviour of any kind, but recognise that the current climate of stigmatising children through naming and shaming, Asbos, and curfews is simply not working,” she said.

“We need to stop and take the time to understand and address what’s happening in children’s lives before demonising them under the label ‘hoodies’ and casting them aside.”

However, Labour chairwoman Hazel Blears dismissed Mr Cameron as “out of the touch with the realities many people face”, noting that the Conservatives voted against tougher sentences for murders and sexual offenders and new terrorism measures.

“Yet again, David Cameron is saying whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. No wonder Iain Duncan Smith said there would be no policy commitments today; exposing the reality that David Cameron’s rhetoric is never backed up by action,” she said.