The Scottish Government and its partners believe that everyone has the right to be, and feel, safe in their community. Many people, communities, agencies and statutory and non-statutory bodies across Scotland, often working in partnership, are actively involved in addressing antisocial behaviour. It is a problem which continues to affect both rural and urban communities ranging from general nuisance to ongoing and entrenched neighbourhood issues which can negatively impact on people’s health, wellbeing and ability to go about their daily business undisturbed.
The Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004, defines antisocial behaviour as: acting in a manner (or pursuing a course of conduct) that causes, or is likely to cause, alarm or distress to at least one person not of the same household as the perpetrator.
As can be seen, this description is extremely broad and antisocial behaviour can mean various things to different people. The range of issues and behaviours that could fall within the scope of this definition can include a vast and complex range of activities such as verbal abuse, threatening behaviour, noise nuisance, vandalism and more criminal behaviour.
The potential breadth of activities that antisocial behaviour covers is problematic - practitioners (professionals in relevant fields) share good practice and intelligence but the interpretation of the language of the legislation, thresholds of tolerance and recording of incidents can vary across the country which, in turn, can lead to inconsistent approaches.
So, when it comes to finding the best way to respond to antisocial behaviour, we have to accept from the outset, that there will never be a ‘one size’ fits all solution, and also that, as time moves on, the types of antisocial behaviour that will be experienced will continue to change. This challenges the ability of statutory and non-statutory agencies to respond to changing forms of antisocial behaviour and, while there is a role for legislation, the reality is that developing new legislation, as well as changing and adding to existing legislation, is a slow and lengthy process.
Since the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 was introduced there has been a significant shift which has recognised that the best way to make communities and victims safer is to focus on preventing antisocial behaviour from happening in the first place, rather than dealing with its consequences.
At the time of writing this report, it has been nearly 15 years since the publication of the Promoting Positive Outcomes: Working Together to Prevent Antisocial Behaviour in Scotland strategic framework. It is right that we consider the impact that the approach set out in this framework has had and what we can learn from it to further develop our approach to responding to antisocial behaviour.
The recent Vision for Justice in Scotland prioritises the need for person-centred, holistic and trauma-informed services, that link into lived experience of people and communities, to create safer communities by addressing the attitudes and circumstances that perpetuate antisocial behaviour, crime and harm.
We are also aware of other important reports relating to community safety that need to be considered - in 2018, the report Community Safety – the emerging landscape and future opportunities was published. In 2019, the follow-up report Developing a Community Safety Narrative for Scotland was published. These reports highlighted the need for an increased focus on understanding what drives people to behave antisocially.
In 2020, the Scottish Community Safety Network published The Scottish Picture of Antisocial Behaviour. This looked at trends and also helped to inform us about underlying issues including: the strong link between antisocial behaviour and area deprivation; the need to address false perceptions; stereotypes around particular communities and how these can be addressed in a holistic way by working with as many members of the community as possible. It indicates that those working in the community safety sector in Scotland, who are focussing on preventative approaches, are on the right track, but argues that we have further to go in working together to find solutions to many of the deeply ingrained problems that communities face.
Whilst sources such as the Scottish Household Survey, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, and the Recorded Crime in Scotland report that antisocial behaviour has broadly been in decline over the last decade (e.g. the number of Antisocial offences recorded by the police decreased by 62% between 2013-14 and 2022-23), concerns about antisocial behaviour remain high among communities and individuals and feedback from some local authorities tells us that since the advent of the pandemic, there has been an increase in types of antisocial behaviour in some localities.
At the time of writing, it was not possible to say with certainty what was causing this perceived rise, but it is suspected that lockdown frustrations have led to lower levels of tolerance, increased mental health difficulties, substance misuse and increased social isolation. However, we also know that during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘pro-social’ behaviour happened organically, such as, doing shopping for others, or helping older neighbours who lacked support.
Looking at such behaviour post-pandemic gives us an opportunity to learn more about what drives goodwill, neighbourliness and collective community action, including how this can support preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour.
Given the context of the published quantitative data, and perception of an increase in antisocial behaviour, the Scottish Government felt it would be worthwhile to conduct engagement sessions to obtain qualitative evidence.
The Scottish Government believes that it is timely to look at how we refresh and modernise the ways in which we prevent and address antisocial behaviour, and reflect on whether there are further steps we can take to achieve this, and be realistic about what we need to do to prevent antisocial behaviour now and in the future.
To begin this work, a series of discussions were held during 2022 with a broad representative cross-section of stakeholders. The following chapters summarise the evidence that was gathered during these sessions which were run by the Scottish Community Safety Network and the Scottish Government.
Detailed findings in response to the three questions that were asked are contained in three feedback sections. It was by working through this feedback that we arrived at the two comprehensive recommendations for a long-term approach as set out in the Executive Summary.
It is recognised that the varied issues raised in these engagement sessions have far reaching implications for many sectors in Scotland, and that responding to these will present many challenges, particularly in the context of resource constraints for local authorities and other key partners. Here we have to recognise that public sector resources are always going to be finite and that we need to find effective ways of working within these to ensure value for money to the public purse.
The evidence points to the value of developing a long-term approach, for real and sustainable change, which recognises that there are no quick fixes and that we need to coordinate our work going forward. By working collaboratively, we can take a more holistic approach, while recognising the need to tailor the delivery processes to achieve these outcomes, to the needs and circumstances of local communities across Scotland.
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