How should we deal with this new class of antisocial criminal? – David Behrens

The Chancellor’s furlough scheme did not extend to burglars. Had it done, we’d all have been footing the bill for their disastrous drop-off in earnings this year.

Multiple lockdowns brought the age of entitlement to an end

With more of us staying at home, they’ve had fewer opportunities to sneak in and make off with the family silver – with the result that the number of reported break-ins has fallen through the floor. This has meant that those so inclined have had to turn to other forms of crime, and the outcome of that has been a huge increase in antisocial behaviour – and not always where you might have expected it.

The Groves, the part of York just north of the city centre, is said currently to be vying with Scarborough as the hardest part of North Yorkshire to police, and a superintendent was forced to admit to residents this week that it might take a return to bobbies on the beat to restore order.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

At the same time in Leeds, the use of rogue fireworks has become such a problem that the council is suggesting creating “exclusion zones” across parts of the city.

Celebratory gunfire is the norm in some parts of the world

None of this is entirely new, of course. People have behaved antisocially since the Stone Age, when they settled arguments by bashing each other with clubs. But the pandemic has stirred things up anew, and the simmering stew of resentment that was previously just bubbling under the surface has now boiled over into violence, or threats of it. A divisive social phenomenon that brought out the best in so many of us has exposed the darker side in others.

Nowhere has this behavioural shift been more evident than in our dealings with the NHS. A year and a half ago we were applauding its staff on our doorsteps. Now, it seems, many of them would rather leave their jobs than deal with our resentment of them.

Across York – and again quite out of character for the city – doctors’ receptionists are said to be thinking of quitting because of the mounting anger they face from people expecting them to hand out appointments.

There has long been a perception that the desk staff at GPs’ practices are over-officious gatekeepers who are there to keep the patients away from the doctors, not bring them together. Until this year no-one had said so to their faces – but with the health service now reduced to a phone hotline, many people have sought out a scapegoat.

In some cases this is an outcome of the personal stress that lockdown restrictions have wrought. In others, it’s just an alternative avenue for latent criminality that might otherwise have manifested itself in more “traditional” offences. The proposed exclusion zones for fireworks in Leeds fall squarely into this latter category.

But declaring districts to be firework free will be no more effective than painting red lines on the road and calling them “no felony areas”. You can’t control crime in the same way as parking because the one thing you can rely on criminals to do is to take no notice of the law.

Nevertheless, the problem in Leeds is acute. An inquiry by the council concluded this week that rogue firework use was such a problem in some parts that it could only be fully resolved by a change in the law.

Letting off fireworks, the noisier the better, is the British equivalent of celebratory gunfire – the practice of shooting firearms into the air that’s popular in more inflammatory parts of the world, like the Middle East. And Wisconsin. The only reason it wasn’t regulated years ago is that the fireworks industry has a surprisingly powerful Westminster lobby – yet the sector remains the province of cowboy traders in pop-up shops who aren’t too choosy about who they sell to, or when. November 5, New Year’s Eve or someone’s wedding day – it makes no difference; Roman candles and sky rockets are almost as abundant on the streets of our cities as illegal drugs.

What all of these dislikable social traits have in common is that they have been encouraged by the climate of entitlement that the pre-pandemic world fostered and which has since been cruelly curtailed. Not since the industrial crises of the 1970s had any government been forced to act so prescriptively, and the rise in antagonistic behaviour we are seeing is part of the backlash. The challenge now for lawmakers is to stem the rising tide of antisocial crime and to put those responsible back where they belong – in jail for breaking and entering.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.