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Poverty 'pushing young into crime'

POVERTY, unemployment and family breakdown are pushing a significant group of young people beyond the fringes of society and into a world of 'inertia, cynicism and crime', according to a report published yesterday.

The research, commissioned by the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, found that young offenders 'are invariably poor, often destitute and . . . barely able to muster significant resources to subsist'.

After studying 1,389 young people on probation schemes, the researchers concluded that there was a 'real link between poverty and crime'.

'The message is clear. A significant group of people in our society, part of our investment in the future, are complete outsiders.' Almost two-thirds of the group were unemployed and only 10 per cent had an income of more than pounds 100 a week. Just one in five of the offenders had a job, compared with two in three of those interviewed for a similar study in the mid-1960s.

Seventy-two per cent were in poverty, according to measures used by the EC, and more than two-thirds of the 17-year-olds surveyed had 'no reliable source of income whatsoever'.

Educational qualifications were equally sparse, with 98 per cent of the group having left school as early as possible and 'the vast majority of 17-year-olds were . . . neither in work nor attending training schemes.'

Those interviewed tended to leave home 'at a very early age', normally 16, sometimes after sexual abuse. Alcohol and drugs were also critical in turning people to crime, with probation officers citing addiction or compulsion as a key factor with 34 per cent.

John Harding, chief probation officer for Inner London, said that in order to tackle crime 'there must be a coherent policy aimed at improving the social circumstances which lead individuals to commit offences'.

Asked whether the Home Office accepted that there was a link between poverty and crime, a spokesperson said: 'There is no causal link, and that is all we can say on it.'

Social Circumstances of Younger Offenders Under Supervision; the Association of Chief Probation Officers, 212 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1BJ; pounds 4.50

Research appeared to show that there were hundreds of persistent young offenders aged between 12 and 15, the Home Office minister, Michael Jack, said on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. He said the Government planned to introduce a 'new form of secure disposal' for such offenders.

Moral panic, page 15