Thursday, 23 September 2010

It's the poverty, stupid Now, a word about the received wisdom that ethnic diversity at neighbourhood level gives rise to lack of cohesion and weakens social relations. There seems to be an assumption that directly relates diversity to perceptions of antisocial behaviour and disorder. It matters because I suspect the assumption influences many actions and decisions in a hidden way, in policy, practice and everyday behaviour. I recently mentioned a paper by John Hipp (Social networks, 32(2), 2010, subscription required) which hints at a little more complexity: perceptions of disorder are explained by general social distance between individuals, not simply social distance based on ethnicity. And last week the ESRC published some research on neighbourhood social heterogeneity. The researchers found 'little evidence' of a significant effect of ethnic diversity on people’s perceptions of a neighbourhood. Among the findings: Population turnover does not influence perceptions of antisocial behaviour but is associated with lower levels of social cohesion and trust. Living in a low density area is strongly associated with more trusting, supportive and cohesive communities. Deprivation has a negative impact on levels of cohesion, trust and informal social control. It also increases the chances of perceiving high levels of antisocial behaviour. While there was some evidence to suggest that ethnic diversity is associated with reduced levels of community cohesion, trust and informal social control, the impact is much smaller than that of neighbourhood deprivation. The ethnic make-up of an area, either in terms of mixing or dominance, was not significant in explaining perceptions of antisocial behaviour. Those living in the most ethnically diverse areas were the least pessimistic about the national crime trend. Ethnic diversity does not influence the significant associations between deprivation and negative perceptions of a local area. However the effect of ethnic diversity on levels of social cohesion and trust is dependent on the level of deprivation in the area. So, it's the poverty, stupid. And attitudes towards people who are poor. There have been people working their backsides off in the field of poverty alleviation and wealth equalities, ready to voice this message to those who would hear it. So one of my next posts I hope, Clegg inspired, will be about the nastiness of povertyism: I want to ask why there isn't any debate about disrimination against poor people?
The first aid approach to community safety: views of a tourist in wonkdom Ben Rogers in yesterday's Guardian: 'Strengthening civility and neighbourhoods is important, but the police have only a minor role to play. Other things – the way places are designed, traffic is managed and the public realm is maintained; the character of shops and local public services, the provision of activities for young people – are just as important as anything the police can do.' (Most of these and more were covered in Respect in the neighbourhood) 'Some figures have a particularly important role to play in maintaining local social order – park keepers, estate managers, shop keepers. But the capacity of a community or neighbourhood as a whole to help police itself is also crucial.' The role played here by citzen-run neighbourhood websites should not be missed: our research suggests that where they exist they are greatly valued residents and agencies for the way they facilitate the maintenance of local order. He then goes on to talk about a first aid approach to community safety - 'training people beyond the police to deal with antisocial behaviour... People can be taught how to read a situation so they know when it is appropriate and safe to intervene, and when to call the police. They can be shown how to protect themselves and others from attack. And they can be given mediation and conflict resolution skills. As with first aid, this training should be available to anyone who wants it.' It's the next step in the logic of co-production. I can see benefits and attractions. But it would be the next step in the formalisation of informal neighbourhood life: like Neighbourhood Watch, it's formalising relations on a basis of distrust, rather than trust. Starting from trust of course is far harder. As some of the comments insist, there needs to be a better appreciation shown for the realities of living with the threat of the kind of anti-social behaviour that does require policing. Rogers leaves himself wide open to exactly this kind of reponse: 'Can someone arrange for the author to leave cloud-cuckoo land or whichever magical land of dreams he inhabits and demonstrate his idea on one of our estates? The last time I saw some yobs dismantling a bus shelter they had an overexcited pit bull with them. As I didn't know dogspeak for 'Calm down bro. Let's talk through the issues', I left them too it.' Or this: 'We need proper policing to deal with louts, and not some Big Society codswallop.' I know what Ben is trying to say, but that comment resonates with me because I have a strong sense of what people experience and their desperation at ever getting a response from policy. It's not good enough to say that ASB is not out of control, because the same people go on experiencing it and have done for a very long time. 'Not out of control' reads 'hasn't yet spread to middle class areas'. The intention behind the first aid approach to community safety is to...

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