Cameron demands ‘social solution’ to crime

Crime is a “social phenomenon” and society must take responsibility for the drug and alcohol problems, abuse and family breakdowns that cause it, David Cameron has said.

The Conservative leader said there must be a new approach to tackling youth offending, arguing that although the state could respond to crime with appropriate punishments, society must show a “lot more love” to help prevent it.

However, Home Office minister Tony McNulty said Mr Cameron’s call to “love a lout” showed how out of touch he was, and asked him to “show some love to the victims of crime and decent law-abiding majority”.

Mr Cameron’s comments came as a new report raises questions about the government’s flagship anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos), saying that most youths regard them as a “badge of honour” and almost half are breached.

A separate study from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) finds British teenagers are the worst behaved in Europe. Fifteen-year-olds in the UK are more likely to get drunk, fight and have sex than their Italian, German or French counterparts.

Mr Cameron said today’s Asbo report, the crisis in the youth custody system and high reoffending rates showed the government’s approach had failed. Its criminal justice legislation had in fact produced an “epidemic of low-level disorder and disrespect”.

“Our youth justice system isn’t working properly at punishing and deterring crime. And our society isn’t giving enough support to young people to stop them becoming criminals. Justice and love. The two sides of our approach to crime,” he said.

Mr Cameron said that “ultimately, it’s not the state which is going to stop crime, it’s society”. He dismissed those who claimed crime was simply the fault of the criminal, saying: “Tell that to a young offender.

“Tell a 16 year old boy, abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, on drugs, dyslexic, hyperactive… tell that boy it’s all his own fault when he ends up in Feltham [young offenders institution]. See if that works.”

Society must take more responsibility for young people, the Tory leader argued, and the state could help by supporting families through better childcare and incentives for parents to stay together.

“I’m not going to beat my breast and say we’re all guilty. But the fact is that crime is a social phenomenon and it has its social causes,” he said.

But Mr McNulty said: “Rather than spouting vague platitudes and trying to grab headlines, Cameron would do well to explain why he and his party have continually opposed Labour’s tough and necessary measures to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

“If he is concerned about crime and justice, why have his party tried over and over again to block Labour’s legislation? Why does he dismiss our respect agenda – which is making a genuine difference to people’s lives – as a ‘gimmick’?”