Counter-radicalisation efforts must recognise the effect of community deprivation

A new report suggests a link between radicalisation and access to services


This week saw the launch of new report by The Henry Jackson Society – Islamist Terrorism: Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015) – which sheds much-needed light onto the lives of the UK’s terrorism offenders.

Examining the sociodemographic and behavioural backgrounds of 258 individuals convicted of Islamism-inspired terrorism offences or involved in suicide attacks in the UK between 1998 and 2015, the report provides a wealth of information on trends including gender, age, and nationality, as well as individuals’ educational, vocational and criminal histories.

Many of the findings confirm what most already suspected. The UK’s terrorists have been overwhelmingly male (though female involvement does appear to be rising) and are predominantly young and British. Other than this, there appears to be no single pattern or profile, with offenders in a diverse spread across almost every field measured.

However, there is one area in which there appears to be a significant amount of consistency in the backgrounds of those involved in offences. Perhaps the most striking finding of the report is the potential connection between terrorism offenders and the relative deprivation of the neighbourhoods in which they lived.

Excluding a small number of individuals living outside England at the time of their arrest, and those imprisoned when committing their offences, the report found that over 75 per cent of the remaining offences were committed by people who lived in the 50 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in England (2015 data), with just three per cent living in the 50 per cent least deprived.

In the remaining cases, it was not possible to determine the offender’s neighbourhood, but these statistics suggest they would be highly likely to live in an area of above average relative deprivation. This is made even more interesting by the fact that nearly half of the English-resident offenders were living in one of the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in the country – described by the government as ‘highly deprived’.

Measured using the English Index of Multiple Deprivation, these indices do not identify how affluent a neighbourhood is, or suggest that everyone living in these areas is deprived. However, they do identify those areas which are the most deprived when compared to other neighbourhoods, using seven domains of deprivation including income, employment, education and health to do so.

They also show which neighbourhoods have the lowest access to services relative to others, with distance to a primary school, post office and GP surgery measured alongside issues such as housing quality and affordability.

Given the proportion of offenders who come from areas with the worst access, the findings of the report raise difficult questions about the links between relative deprivation and increased vulnerability to radicalisation within communities. However, they also support much of the work being done at local authority level to challenge extremism through access to safeguarding services.

Since the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which gave local authorities a legal duty ‘to provide support for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism’, individuals deemed vulnerable to radicalisation are referred to Prevent, the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy.

Their case is then assessed by a panel of safeguarding experts drawn from teams including adult and child services, family support, and healthcare and housing specialists, and they are provided with a support package based on individual vulnerabilities and risk levels.

These responses focus on ensuring that those assessed to be at risk are connected with programmes including mentoring, life skills guidance, cognitive behavioural therapies, education and careers guidance, and health or housing support – measures which those living in the most deprived areas struggle to access, and which have been successful at turning people away from extremism.

It has become fashionable in recent months to bemoan the supposed centralised and top-down nature of counter-radicalisation support, or even to attack those groups within local communities that seek to engage with the government in providing services.

However, the findings of this report suggest that a consistent safeguarding approach to counter-radicalisation across local authorities which puts the provision of these services to those at risk at its heart is one which may have the largest reach and greatest impact.

In the long term, working on bringing down barriers between the most deprived communities and services provided in their neighbourhoods will be vital, but for now, having a strategy which helps ensure the most vulnerable are identified and supported may help prevent those currently at risk from ending up on the pages of the next edition of this report.

Rupert Sutton is a fellow at the Henry Jackson Society

See: Prevent gets a bad press, but it’s a crucial tool against the far-right that killed Jo Cox

See: Islamist terrorism: A new report helps inform an evidence-based response

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