Just one in 10 referrals to the government’s controversial Prevent programme were ultimately deemed to be at risk of radicalisation – a similar proportion to last year, figures reveal, with thousands of people leaving the process or being sent to alternative services.
There were 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to 31 March, up 10% compared with the record low in the previous year, Home Office figures show. Ultimately, 697 were deemed at risk of radicalisation and taken on by the government’s Channel programme for specialist support.
Nearly 2,000 referrals required no further action, while about 3,500 cases were directed to alternative services ranging from education, community and “friends and family”.
Individuals referred to the Prevent programme, which has a £40m annual budget, have their details stored without their knowledge on a database. Critics, including Muslim groups, have claimed Prevent has little to do with safeguarding and is more concerned with gathering intelligence than supporting communities.
The most controversial element of the programme is the statutory duty imposed on schools, NHS trusts, prisons, local authorities and other public bodies to report concerns about people they suspect may be at risk of turning to terrorism. Environmental and animal rights activists have been referred to Prevent.
Of the 697 cases ultimately referred to the Channel support programme, 302 (43%) were referred for rightwing radicalisation and 210 (30%) were referred for Islamist radicalisation.
Of the 6,287 Prevent referrals, 1,487 were for concerns over Islamist extremism – a 6% rise on the previous year and the first increase since the year ending March 2016. The number of Prevent referrals for concerns over right-wing extremism was 1,387, and 1,388 in the 12 months to March 2019.
A further 3,203 people were flagged over a “mixed, unstable or unclear ideology” while 210 were referred over other concerns such as international and leftwing radicalisation.
Police made the highest number of referrals to Prevent – 1,950 (31%) – closely followed by the education sector, with 1,928 (31%).
About 88% of referrals to Prevent were men or boys while more than half were for people aged 20.
The government was accused of “incompetence and complacency” in its handling of an independent review of Prevent, which was framed as an opportunity to scrutinise some of the key criticisms of the programme.
The review was first announced in January 2019 and it has been beset by delays. Its first chair, Lord Carlile, was forced to step down in December 2019 and it took four months for the Home Office to launch a recruitment campaign for his replacement.
Interviews took place in September but the new chair is yet to be appointed. The government has removed the statutory deadline for ministers to respond to the review’s findings in fresh counter-terrorism legislation.