Government Warned Spiking Crisis Can't Be “Swept Under The Carpet”
Campaign groups have welcomed a new government taskforce to tackle spiking at universities, but say the Home Office is failing to act quickly enough on the issue nationwide.
The Department for Education announced on Tuesday it was launching a new initiative aimed at tackling the number of drink spiking incidents targeting university students, which has been broadly welcomed by many in related industries.
The taskforce will reportedly bring together universities, police forces and experts to formulate strategies to help keep young people safe, with the aim of reporting back dedicated plans by the end of the academic year.
But PoliticsHome understands there is a desire among some higher education stakeholders not to frame spiking solely as a student-related issue.
Several other campaign groups and industry bodies have also called on the Home Office to act faster on its pledge to act on spiking, after a wave of cases late last year shone fresh light on such harmful acts.
“They're not acting quickly enough. It has always been a problem, and as far as I'm concerned the only reason that has now got to this stage that people are listening is because of social media,” said Dawn Dines, founder of campaign group Stamp Out Spiking UK.
“This cannot be hidden anymore. It's on the agenda. It can't be swept under the carpet.”
She continued: “I'm just hoping now that people are going to see it for the disgusting crime that it is, and that we're going to get firm foundations that something's going to be done about it.”
Dines said she welcomed the new taskforce as “freshers are so vulnerable”, but also highlighted the need for improved training and better data collection on spiking incidents.
She was among campaigners called to give evidence to the Home Affairs select committee on spiking, which echoed her recommendations for better training in its report published last month.
Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said there was an “urgent” need for the Home Office to take the lead on training for police forces and hospitality venues to improve awareness of spiking.
“There is no standardisation and no sharing of best practice. The challenge we have is I would much rather the Home Office develop something that is standard that can be rolled out across the country,” he said.
“It's got to come from the Home Office and it's got to be a collective response, not sporadic training up and down the country.”
But UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said it was still important to ensure spiking was tackled in non-licenced venues, which is where the many incidents relating to students take place.
A 2021 survey of 747 young adults by the Alcohol Education Trust (AET) showed that 12% of them had been spiked, with 35% of incidents occurring at private parties.
“Pubs, bars, restaurants, nightclubs — they're twice licenced. The person who's selling the alcohol and responsible for managing the venue is licensed, and the venue itself is licensed,” she said.
“There's rigorous conditions that control everything that happens in that venue, and steps that can be taken where things go wrong, you don't have that in the university setting.”
Many campaigners and industry bodies have also put pressure on the government to ensure accurate data is collected on spiking incidents across the UK.
The home affairs committee warned in its report last month that “no one knows how prevalent spiking is” as there was no set definition used by all police forces.
It added that there was a “pressing need” for police to collect more data on perpetrators and their motives to help tackle the issue.
“I think all of our spaces and all of our members take full responsibility for their parts and their accountability for people's safety. I think the challenge that we have is a wider societal challenge,” the NTIA’s CEO Kill said.
He added: “We've really got to really try and work hard to drill down on exactly what the data is, how many incidents are reported, how many convictions are coming off the back of it.”
Kill said he believed the government was “very much interested in seeing the scope of getting something done”, but said the Home Office was “not moving quick enough”.
Commenting on the issue, Minister for Safeguarding Rachel Maclean said: "Spiking is a heinous crime which puts lives at risk.
"We have already reclassified drugs which have been used for drink spiking and provided funding through the Safety of Women at Night and Safer Streets funds to support initiatives which prevent people from becoming victims of spiking.
"I know more must be done, which is why I will continue working with experts across the sector to discuss how we can go even further to tackle this crime and bring offenders to justice."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe