Isabel Hardman

How Boris Johnson could reach his target on cutting violent crime

How Boris Johnson could reach his target on cutting violent crime
Text settings

Can Boris Johnson really cut violent crime by 20 per cent? James reported recently that the Prime Minister has set his Cabinet this target, and is demanding that every department get involved in realising it.

Most people have focused on the most salient political problem, which is knife crime. But if the Prime Minister is really serious about driving the overall violent crime statistics down, then he already has a piece of 'oven-ready' legislation which could help him do this - if he's prepared to spend a bit more money on it. The Domestic Abuse Bill is returning to Parliament very soon, after just making it through all the prorogation jamboree in the autumn. Domestic abuse is a crime that often involves a great deal of repeated violence, including homicide, with two women a week dying at the hands of a current or former partner. Campaigners often describe it as 'domestic terrorism', and compare the amount of attention paid to domestic homicides with the response to the far smaller number of terrorism-related deaths. In 2018, 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides. Charities estimate that each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse has moved up the political agenda in the past few years - one of the winners at our Parliamentarian awards last night was Rosie Duffield, who spoke very powerfully in the Commons last year about her own experience of coercive control - but often the debate is about how to get women (victims are predominantly female) away from violent partners, rather than about the offenders themselves. Perpetrators of abuse tend to be repeat offenders, often doing the same thing to one partner repeatedly, before moving onto another victim. Research by charity SafeLives found that a quarter of perpetrators who cause serious harm are repeat offenders and some have at least six victims. There are around 400,000 such offenders in England and Wales but currently the vast majority of them receive no specialist intervention to try to change their behaviour and reduce their chances of reoffending.

This week a cross-party group of MPs launched a call for a national perpetrator strategy, arguing that domestic abuse won't reduce in this country unless the men carrying it out are taught to change their attitudes towards women. There are perpetrator programmes in some areas, but the quality is very patchy and those running them often end up fighting with those looking after survivors over tiny pots of funding.

One scheme that has worked very well to reduce reoffending is called Drive, which was developed by SafeLives, Respect and Social Finance. It focuses on what are known as 'high-harm perpetrators' and pilots have run for three years in Essex, South Wales and West Sussex. An analysis by the University of Bristol found that physical abuse fell by 82 per cent, sexual abuse by 88 per cent, harassment and stalking by 75 per cent and jealous and controlling behaviour by 73 per cent. A victim's case was three times more likely to be closed because they were no longer considered to be at risk when the perpetrator had gone through the Drive programme than if they had been in a a control group where only the survivor received support.

This adds to the political impetus for cutting violent crime, and I understand that the ministers examining how the government can really meet this target are very sympathetic to the arguments of the charities calling for a proper perpetrator strategy. The question is whether the Treasury is prepared to stump up the cash to run these schemes properly, as poor-quality perpetrator programmes can do more harm than good. Respect and Social Finance have given figures to the Home Office suggesting that it would cost £165 million to run perpetrator programmes across the country, which is almost a rounding error in government spending terms. Sajid Javid was committed to the Domestic Abuse Bill when he was in the Home Office, and now as Chancellor he has a chance to ensure that the ambition in the legislation and Johnson's desire to hit a big target come together.