• The Gaudie

Priti Patel and the Office at Home

With the new Home Secretary creating a different headline every other day, I thought it was worth discussing what she has done to attract such attention.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

by Finlay Macleay

Priti Patel has been Home Secretary for just under a month now. In that relatively short span she has spent over £57,000 on takeaway boxes and allowed for the criminalisation of 12-year-olds. Undoubtedly an odd mix but it’s Priti Patel after all who in 2017 was summoned back to London after it was uncovered she was participating in unauthorised meetings with top Israeli officials. So let’s go over her origin story. 

The Home Office recently struck a deal with chicken shops across England and Wales that swapped company branding on takeaway boxes for their own ‘#knifefree’ campaign branding. I wonder if the Home Secretary would offer a similar deal to high end restaurants so that plates had ‘#cocainefree’ inscribed upon them? With the middle class fuelling the violent drug industry, one would expect as much. And while that may seem like a sweeping statement, which it clearly is as the middle class do not solely fuel the drug industry, it is only as sweeping to imply that knife carriers just eat fried chicken. Some of them may have a gluten allergy, be vegetarian, or simply not like fried chicken. There might even be a vegan amongst them, although that would be a tad misaligned.  I’m also just going to skate past the racial stereotyping here, and move onto the logistical problem. 

The boxes have ‘#knifefree’ on the exterior and a short story about someone who previously carried a knife on the interior. The Home Office have stated that this will help prevent ‘chicken shop grooming’. A form of grooming that exploits younger people, so that for completing a task set by the groomer they will be bought food. However, what on the box actually helps with that? Some of the stories depict individuals that swapped carrying a knife for boxing or music along with other activities. But what use is depicting these changes if people in the areas worst affected by knife crime have such limited access to said activities. Since 2012 over 750 youth centres have been closed across the UK and youth spending has continually decreased year on year showing the ignorance of the Home Office towards the issue of access in these areas.

Another of Patel’s recent moves include her announcement that children as young as 12 years of age can receive curfews for being suspected of carrying a knife as well as new stop and search powers for police. Surely even Patel realises that criminalising children is not a healthy long-term plan. Once a child or teenager receives a criminal record, especially in the UK with its punitive approach to youth offenders, the likelihood of reoffending is high. Furthermore, the new stop and search powers allow police to stop individuals without suspicion, a practice that has proven to achieve extremely low arrest rates for offensive weapons (2%) compared to regular stop and search (14%). The introduction of these new powers has proved so questionable that the West Midlands police force has refused to use them.

Perhaps the Home Secretary’s blindside is that people committing crimes do not think they’ll be caught. If there was a high likelihood of that occurring then harsher punishment might work as a deterrent which she so badly desires. However, last year just 9% of crimes in England and Wales concluded with suspects being charged. Not exactly concerning statistics for those of us committing crime. Perhaps the 20,000 new police officers will make a difference and with their recruitment cost being £1.1 billion you should hope so. 

More bobbies on the beat sounds good – it’s an alliteration and everything – but whether or not it actually does any good is a different matter. That money would be better placed in youth spending and schools which might actually target the root causes of knife crime. Providing better support and opportunity for those in the areas worst affected seems like it would be far more effective in the long-term than tougher policing. The only guaranteed outcome of this recruitment drive, accompanied by new stop and search powers, is furthering the already wide gap between police and communities experiencing knife crime. Patel is just the latest in a long line of Home Secretaries choosing to do what sounds good instead of what does good and until she and the government realise there are lives and not just money on the line, that looks unlikely to change.

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