Leading Article : A time and a place for curfews on children

Share
Related Topics
Labour's Home Affairs spokesman, Jack Straw, drives home from the House of Commons. But this time it is not the squeegee merchants who arrest his attention. He notices numbers of young boys and girls on the streets up way beyond what ought to be their bedtimes. His alarm is understandable but his solution - age-based curfew - may once again show Mr Straw reaching for the headline before working through the devilish detail of problem, policy and social circumstance.

Labour does not like the accusation that it is starting to advocate strong- arm solutions to social problems. (For one thing, its faith in government action in the social sphere contrasts oddly with its neo-liberal approach to what government can accomplish in melding and invigorating the economy.) So Mr Straw will say he was only engaging in what you might call policy throat-clearing. He was having a public gargle on a subject deemed to be of concern. There is indeed anecdotal evidence of young children spotted out late unchaperoned. But how many, and where, and how can you tell whether a child is loitering with intent or coming back late from a friend or even the video store? Most people would readily agree the sight of a small child aged under 10 on the streets after dark is unsettling - a good citizen ought to inquire or report. But how late is too late for a 13-year-old? Police and local authorities are already attentive to amusement arcades and other child hang-outs; the reach of the authorities is and will probably always be limited when it comes to the estates and housing schemes.

Mr Straw comes unstuck if he is advocating a national plan of action. They tend to fail for two reasons. One is that the incidence of any problem differs across the country. The contours of family, child numbers, schooling, policing, race are self-evidently different in Stockwell - near Mr Straw's home - from Sandwell, Sandbach or Stenhousemuir. The second is that central government has time and again proved itself bad at mounting the cross- disciplinary, trans-departmental effort that combating complex social problems demands. There is an emergent class of issue which can only really be addressed locally, by means of detailed programmes of co-operation between area agencies, local authorities, the police and business. Children on the streets after hours is one of them, along with truanting, school violence and drug abuse.

It is far better to begin locally. Many organisations, public and voluntary, already keep an eye on the street. Businesses, too, look to their security and look out. They know, in particular places, whether there is a problem with children after dark. It will be their joint action that will be needed to engage with it.

Mr Straw says he has in mind the experience of Coventry. With the co- operation of the Home Office (pre Michael Howard), Coventry enacted by- laws making its city centre "dry" as a way of coping with a rash of teen crime. (It has not been conspicuously successful.) Other areas, some with similar, some with divergent problems, can watch, compare and learn.

The principle of Mr Straw's prescription may be right. Forcing children off the streets late might serve to reduce crime or keep them out of moral danger (at least get them to bed earlier and so better able to get to school on time). Equally, the social facts of negligent or absent parents, headstrong children and tempting high streets may just be too solid. Forced off the streets does not mean forced home. What is needed is a process of trials, evidence of what works and what doesn't. We can all learn from experiments like that beginning in New Orleans - provided we give it time and stop hailing every weird and wonderful local effort in the United States as the universal answer.

Mr Straw - formerly Labour's Environment Spokesman - knows full well what that would require. Labour would have to be prepared to let councils off the leash, to free up the financial and legislative shackles on local action. How much easier is headline-grabbing than assaying local, incremental, unobserved real-world improvements to edgy, difficult social questions.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York