A survey of the opinions of 7,000 Europeans has found that the UK is perceived as having the biggest problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe by both its own citizens and the citizens of other European countries surveyed. The study, carried out by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at University College London, surveyed people from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The report concluded that anti-social behaviour - defined as misuse of public space, disregard for community well-being, acts directed at damaging people or the environment - was perceived to be growing in all these countries. The 'research has shown anti-social behaviour to be an issue of concern across Europe; only the Italians see it as static or reducing. These perceptions are important because they can guide government policy in a way that satisfies people's anxieties without necessarily tackling the root of the problem,' said Professor Gloria Laycock, director of the Jill Dando Institute. Interestingly, the respondents all believed that anti-social behaviour is a bigger problem in their own country than in the other countries surveyed. However, in overall rank, in terms of how all countries perceive the problems in all countries, the UK came out worst. EU-wide, the worst problems are considered to be vandalism (70 per cent of respondents believe it is a 'big problem'), followed by rowdy behaviour (59 per cent), disrespectful behaviour (58 per cent), bullying (36 per cent), street drinking (24 per cent) and graffiti and noisy neighbours (both 17 per cent). Areas identified by respondents as anti-social behaviour 'hotspots' also varied between countries. In France, 80 per cent identified housing estates or suburbs as the areas of greatest risk. Italians agreed, although not as strongly, with 64 per cent identifying housing estates or suburbs. In Germany, 83 per cent identified transport stops as hotspots, while in the UK and Spain, bars and clubs were identified by 80 per cent and 81 per cent respectively. Respondents from the Netherlands identified shopping areas as the places of greatest risk. More than half of all respondents pointed a finger at the under-25 age group as the most likely to cause anti-social behaviour, and the vast majority thought that parents could put a stop to anti-social behaviour. Again, linked to this, the majority of respondents felt that 'lack of discipline' contributes to the perceived problem, with the exception of Germany, whose respondents identified unemployment. Finally, respondents believed that the most effective method for dealing with anti-social behaviour is tough sentencing. Despite each country believing that it has the biggest problem, there was no sense from the survey that respondents felt that the overall problem was 'bad'. 'It is not possible to determine whether the perceptions are reflective of real and worrying increases in anti-social behaviour, or are driven by media reporting and frequently observed notions that the world was a better place 50 years ago,' said Professor Laycock. The British come out of the survey the worst. 'Although the English are not unique in their excessive consumption of alcohol they are singled out as causing problems across Europe and see themselves in that light too,' states the report. The report goes on to suggest that controlling alcohol consumption may be a key to controlling anti-social behaviour. This could be questioned however, as the UK has the highest prices of the countries surveyed, and until very recently, the most restrictive access to alcohol was in the UK. In fact, violent crime has dropped by 21 per cent in the UK since the deregulation of drinking hours. The survey also examined social or cultural tensions, and found that Germany, France and the Netherlands all expressed concerns about 'cultural tensions'. In this area, the UK was found to have the least concern for 'cultural tensions', with Spain and Italy coming ranking mid-way. Finally, the survey addressed the issue of intervention - would you approach someone who was behaving anti-socially? The researchers asked respondents how they would react to a 14 year-old vandalising a bus-stop. The Germans felt most inclined to intervene (60 per cent), dropping to only 30 per cent in the UK. This suggests that there is a problem - if respondents are unhappy with the situation, but generally disinclined to intervene, what should be done? To conclude, the paper ends with a challenge from Professor Laycock, who suggests we must first, 'determine to what extent these perceptions are a reflection of a real and growing problem. This would require careful scrutiny of crime data and police records across Europe. It is a task for the EU.'
Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands