The Home Office is sinking around £44m a year into Prevent – where’s it all going?

Sign saying "Counter Terrorism Response Level Heightened"
Support us and go ad-free

As part of our #FollowTheMoney series, The Canary has been monitoring Prevent funding from the Home Office. We submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request which asked to see the details of Prevent programme funding between 2015 and 2020.

What we got was a breakdown of the numbers – and nothing more.

The details

We asked for:

  • An annual breakdown of Home Office funding of the Prevent programme between 2015 and 2020.
  • A breakdown of Prevent funding as allocated to local councils between 2015 and 2020.
  • Details of any other Prevent projects funded by the Home Office between 2015 and 2020.

The Home Office gave us this breakdown of funding from 2015 to 2020:

Financial Year Total Budget (£)
2015/2016 42,800,000
2016/2017 37,700,000
2017/2018 45,500,000
2018/2019 47,300,000
2019/2020 45,100,000

Over the past 5 years, this is an average of over £43.6m per year in funding for the Prevent programme.

This is a significant amount of money. And that’s before we even get on to the widespread criticism of the Prevent strategy.

Security concerns

The Home Office declined to answer our two other questions, citing security reasons and commercial interests.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

It admitted that:

Sharing information on Prevent priority areas, projects, and the level of funding they each receive, could enhance the openness of government and help the public understand, in greater depth, how the resources are used to most efficiently safeguard vulnerable individuals from being radicalised.

However, according to the Home Office, this openness is overtaken by the national security risk. Its response states:

Such a breakdown could allow an individual to build a threat map of the country, potentially identifying local authorities where people are most at risk of being radicalised. This could increase the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism, undermining the national security of the UK.

It also continues, interestingly, to say that it can’t disclose which projects have got Prevent funding because:

some charities may be concerned about reputational damage both generally and within the vulnerable communities they are engaging with, if they are publicly linked with Prevent. Therefore, there is a significant risk that fear of having their identity unilaterally disclosed via FOI would make some charities less willing to work with Prevent, increasing the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism.

What damage could association with Prevent do?

Currently, Prevent funding is under the spotlight with the upcoming William Shawcross-led review of Prevent. Part of the criticism of Shawcross is outlined in this investigation from the Guardian:

In the past Shawcross has been a critic of Islam. In 2012, as a director at the conservative Henry Jackson Society, he claimed: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future.

Advocacy organisations and activists have criticised the move, including Amnesty International, CAGE, Inclusive Mosque Group, and the Network for Police Monitoring.

However, a policy document from the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) is more cause for concern for activists.

The CCE, led by Sara Khan, has set out to find gaps in legal frameworks in relation to counter-terror strategies. While this is separate from Prevent, both policies do tackle extremism and counter-extremism strategies at length.

“Nothing of real weight to counter extremism”

In the CCE report, it’s stated that:

The extremist threat is a serious challenge, which Government has grappled with for many years. Previous efforts to counter extremism, such as the 2013 Government Extremism Taskforce and the 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy, have been well- intentioned but had only limited success.

Mark Rowley, who led the review, said:

Whilst we have a well-established counter terrorism machinery across police, intelligence agencies, government and others, we have nothing of real weight to counter extremism.

Now it’s worth mentioning that Prevent is one of the most prominent counter-terror strategies from the Home Office. So the question is this: if Prevent has had over £35m in funding every single year since 2015 (to say nothing of pre-2015), why is that money producing “nothing of real weight to counter extremism”?

Where is that money going?

When we reached out to the Home Office for comment, a spokesperson told us:

Prevent saves lives and turns them around.

Since 2012, almost 3,000 people have been adopted onto Prevent’s voluntary and confidential Channel programme, helping them to move away from terrorism and enabling them to live more stable and fulfilling lives.

Last year, 82% of those that exited the process did so with no further radicalisation concerns.

However, Prevent itself has long been decried as racist, Islamophobic, and ineffective.

Of course, the CCE is discussing legal stopgaps in relation to counter-extremism strategies. But one striking arm of the government’s counter-extremism strategy has been Prevent. And the same criticisms that can be levelled at Prevent can be levelled at the CCE’s approach.

Culture of violence 

Indeed, one of the major recommendations of the policy review from the CCE focuses on closing an apparent gap in the law while claiming it will:

steer well clear of treading on fundamental principles of freedom of speech

As part of our #FactOfTheMatter series, the investigations unit has covered how the government has weaponised free speech debates to quash dissent.

The CCE’s policy document, however, does the same thing. Prevent has already been criticised for being a restriction on freedom of speech. Yet here the CCE expresses concern at the need to give greater powers to police and the criminal justice system:

Too often those within the criminal justice system are unable to discern the difference between robust theological arguments and carefully constructed campaigns of threats, hatred and intimidation by extremist actors.

Here, the CCE admits counter-terrorism is creating freedom of speech issues – even as it seeks to give these programmes greater powers.

Prevent has already laid the groundwork to breed suspicion of Muslims. The involvement of free speech debates add fuel to this fire.

Clarity

The Canary spoke to CAGE, which the CCE mentions by name in the policy document. The CCE says:

As we have seen first-hand, CAGE has labelled counter extremism efforts as ‘Islamophobic’. In our view this is highly misleading and inflammatory

CAGE spokesperson Anas Mustapha said:

The role of the CCE is to find ways to expand the scope of repression powers, specifically, the CCE has been making moves to suffocate Muslim civil society.

This would fly in the face of the CCE’s claim to preserve freedom of speech.

Mustapha continued:

Counter Terrorism laws already prosecute offences which are far and away from violence in any meaningful sense of the word; there is no need to expand such powers further. However, these laws have created a market niche where forever expansion of laws, powers and funding is essential to sustain its growth even at the cost of our freedoms

This is a stark warning. And one that characterises the CCE’s policy recommendations as more interested in preserving regressive Prevent strategies than in protecting freedoms.

Vigilance

The current stream of policy documents from the government shows sustained attempts to curb the freedoms of immigrants, Muslims, and other communities of colour in Britain.

As we await the Shawcross review of the Prevent strategy, there’s much to be wary of when it comes to whose freedoms are protected.

Featured image via Flickr/Elliott Brown

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us