Government urged to turn around ‘sink’ estates within 10 years

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Friday, 22 August 2014


  • Britain’s social housing estates “nothing short of a national embarrassment”, says think tank 

Politicians from all parties should pledge to turn around the nation’s most deprived social housing estates within the next decade.

In a new report, The Estate We’re In, leading think tank Policy Exchange argues that the condition of many of Britain’s social housing estates is nothing short of a national embarrassment. The paper says that the results of decades of neglect and ghettoization have led to acute social problems that are entrenched and generational including:  lone parents with low educational attainment and poor parenting skills; child neglect and domestic violence; low levels of employment; and the rise of gang warfare and knife crime. It points to the case of the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham where the terrible living conditions, high unemployment and poor police relations contributed to the 2011 riots.

The paper argues that it would be “morally inexcusable” for policymakers not to pledge to turn around the most deprived council estates within ten years.

Written by author and inner-city crime writer, Gavin Knight, the report uses case studies to extract best practice, drawing out the key lessons for policymakers in how to turn around the worst housing estates. It references the work of individual police officers, neighbourhood managers and nursery workers who have helped turn around some of the most troubled estates. 

  1. Crime reporting is fundamental. Getting people to report crime is the first step in reclaiming estates. Too often residents are too frightened or disillusioned to do so.
  2. Leaders and interventions should be local. The paper shows that the dedication and effort of one individual can catalyse the recovery of an estate. Many of these individuals have lived in and around the area themselves and have in-depth knowledge of the problems facing residents. Successful interventions in the report case studies were based at the very heart of the estates they served. 
  3. Agencies must work collaboratively. Residents often have multiple and overlapping issues that require different agencies from social workers and neighbourhood police officers to debt management advice and nursery care. It’s vital that these organisations work together.
  4. Women must be supported. Domestic violence is endemic on many deprived estates and several of those we interviewed emphasised that young people who are exposed to violence in the home will often grow up to commit violence themselves. There is a clear need for better availability of and support for male perpetrator programmes; for better sex and relationships education; and for interventions to empower women in deprived areas through education, employment and parenting support. 

It makes a series of recommendations including:

  • The government should set up an ‘Estates Recovery Board’, which would complement the Troubled Families team, pool funding from relevant government departments and work with Police & Crime Commissioners and Estate Recovery Teams to identify local leaders.
  • At a local level, Police & Crime Commissioners should set up ‘Estate Recovery Teams’ made up of local representatives from across all relevant agencies  including Chief Constables, the local authority, headteachers from local schools, NHS Trust representatives, drug and alcohol workers and other individuals from agencies or voluntary organisations who can work with the residents on each estate. On an estate-by-estate basis, Estate Recovery Teams will devise a Recovery Plan to prioritise and tackle the deep-rooted problems on individual estates such as gang crime, unemployment, lack of education, domestic violence and other issues. 

Gavin Knight, author of the report, said:

“It would be morally inexcusable for policymakers to turn their backs on Britain’s sink estates. Deprived council estates can be transformed from dangerous backwaters. Gang members can be presented with a route away from crime towards a better life. Children and families living in these troubled communities can have their life changes dramatically enhanced. But only if the government commits to a ten year programme to clear up the worst estates in the country.”


Notes to Editors

Gavin has written widely on inner-city crime for Prospect, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and the Evening Standard. His book, Hood Rat, which was published in July 2011 just before the riots, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. Over the two years prior to publication, Gavin was regularly embedded with frontline police units in London, Manchester and Glasgow. He also spent time with dozens of violent criminals involved in gun and gang crime. The book was serialised in the Daily Telegraph, BBC Radio Four’s Book of the Week and is being developed into a tv series.

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