From Mizzy to shoplifting: anti-social society?

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Saturday 28 October, Church House, London


Over a million incidents of anti-social behaviour were recorded last year. The problem has been making headlines, from the government’s ban on the ‘laughing gas’ canisters that litter parks to the home-invasion trend that saw the infamous Mizzy walking into random houses with his fellow TikTokers. But how big a problem is it when anti-social behaviour is mostly just young people hanging about on the streets?

According to research, 43 per cent of victims of anti-social behaviour suffer mental-health impacts, while vandalism and disorder blight many areas. As for the perpetrators, the shadow justice secretary, Steve Reed, has spoken of ‘tackling the effects of the trauma that leads them to offend’. But is this therapeutic approach to young people and to those on the receiving end of anti-social behaviour just as disempowering as the punitive approach also advocated by both main parties?

The government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan promises to treat it ‘with the urgency it deserves’ and to take a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach. The campaign group Manifesto Club, however, describes it as a ‘significant increase in police and local authority powers to direct individual behaviour, ban public activities, and issue on-the-spot penalties’.

Shoplifting seems to be on the rise – with John Lewis and other corporations announcing profit losses linked to ‘steal-to-order’ shoplifters. In big supermarkets, many items such as baby formula or cheese are kept behind the counter or are security tagged. For some, the kinds of products being targeted signifies that the increase in criminality is linked to the cost-of-living crisis. But others argue that the inability of the police to respond to shoplifting calls means that thieves know they can operate with impunity. In September, a row over shoplifting hit the headlines after an altercation between a black woman and an Asian owner at a store in Peckham, London escalated into violence. What seems to have begun as an allegation of theft has inspired protests outside multiple shops in Peckham, where critics argue black women are being routinely mistreated.

Is the political and media response excessive or are we too easily resigned to youthful misbehaviour, petty crime and incivility? Do we have a role to play in ‘policing’ our communities ourselves or are we too scared, or disinclined, to intervene?

Emma Burnell
founder and political consultant, Political Human; journalist; playwright, No Cure For Love, Triggered and Venom

Neil Davenport
cultural critic; head of faculty of social sciences, JFS Sixth Form Centre

Francis Foster
teacher; comedian; co-host, TRIGGERnometry

Lisa McKenzie
working-class academic; author, Getting By: estates class and culture in austerity Britain and Working Class Lockdown Diaries

Ed Rennie
Catholic writer; political strategist

Dave Clements
writer; school governor; public servant