What is Prevent?

Updated: May 4

In this article

  • Who is responsible?

  • The CONTEST Strategy

  • Promoting British Values

  • Why was Prevent created?

  • Extremism and Radicalisation

  • Who is at risk?

  • The role of social media

  • Prevent in different contexts

  • Working together and Channel

  • Why is Prevent controversial?

  • Reporting concerns

Since 1st July 2015, all specified authorities have a responsibility to ensure that they demonstrate compliance to Prevent duty, with due regard; as outlined under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. This is a form of training that aims to ensure the safeguarding of children, adults and communities from any threat of terrorism. It is a legal requirement that applies to a wide array of public-sector organisations in England and Wales, and Scotland. The 2011 Prevent strategy included three main objectives:

  • To respond to the ideological challenges of radicalism and extremism and prevent the threat that society faces from individuals and groups who promote such ideals.

  • Prevent people from being drawn to terrorism through the provision of relevant support and advice that adopts a rights-based early intervention approach.

  • Work with specified authorities, including ‘sectors and institutions’ to identify radicalisation and extremism in British society.

As a result, professionals are now obligated to report any suspicious activity to a local Prevent body. An assessment will then be conducted, whether or not further action is required, and support is provided for those who are exploited or vulnerable. As part of this, the Home Office will collect data, implement local and regional Prevent coordinators, support the Prevent Oversight Board, and monitor and assess the delivery of the Prevent duty in up to 50 priority areas.

Who is responsible? As a form of safeguarding, ultimately Prevent is everybody’s business. However, relevant training is a legal requirement for those who work in specified authorities where there are risks of radicalisation that need to be addressed. This refers to public-facing bodies such as local authorities, the NHS, schools, higher education, the probation service and the police amongst others. Prevent thus aims to ensure that frontline staff are equipped with the knowledge required to recognise those vulnerable to radicalisation, and the appropriate procedure for reporting those that they think are at risk.

The CONTEST Strategy Prevent is one of four elements of CONTEST, which is the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. CONTEST was first developed by the Home Office in 2003, and it has been revised several times since, with the latest revision in June 2018. The strategy is premised upon the four Ps, which include: PursueTo stop terrorist attacks from happening.PreventTo prevent people from becoming terrorists.ProtectTo strengthen the UK’s protection against extremism, radicalisation and terrorism.PrepareTo mitigate the impact of terrorist attacks in the UK.

Promoting British Values Prevent aims to protect and promote the fundamental British values, which include:

  • Democracy

  • Rule of Law

  • Tolerance

  • Individual Liberty

Although such values are not only applicable to the UK alone, these are the fundamental principles that shape policy and practice, with the promotion of these values already embedded in legislative and guidance documentation. The policy and legislative framework set out the government’s commitment to equality and inclusion. In accordance with UK Equality law, each person is entitled to the same rights and to live their life free from prejudice and marginalisation based on their sociodemographic status. With respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs as well as those without faith, we believe in the celebration of diversity and difference in a society that protects and promotes international human rights. Prevent procedure outlines that anyone who aims to challenge these values may represent a threat to British society.

Why was Prevent created? Safeguarding is at the heart of the Prevent policy, as well as the wider counter-terrorism strategy. With an overall aim to safeguard children, young people and adults from the threat faced by those who pose extremist or radicalised views. It places a duty on public sector organisations to prevent people from being drawn towards such views and ensures that support is in place for those who are vulnerable. As previously mentioned Prevent was part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. This is a measure that aims to reduce the threat of terrorism in the UK. Since the turn of the millennium, governments around the world have implemented state counter-terrorism strategies in response to an increase of terrorist incidences. The first permanent terrorism strategy was outlined within the Terrorism Act 2000; a measure that increased police powers allowed for more stop-and-search- measures, created new offences and widened the definition of terrorism. In 2003, the government implemented the first CONTEST strategy as part of their post 9/11 counter-terrorism approach. Since its launch, there have been numerous attacks across the UK, including the July 2005 bombings, the attack on London Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Manchester Arena in 2017. The strategy has been revised several times, with later measures also aiming to deal with a perceived growing risk of ‘home-grown’ terrorism. Throughout this period the UK terrorism threat level moved from substantial to severe several times.

Extremism and Radicalisation Prevent responds to the ideological challenges which can occur as a result of extremism and radicalism, reducing the threat of terrorism from those who pose such views. As part of Prevent Duty, frontline staff have a responsibility to be aware of the meaning of such terminology. Terrorism The current UK definition of Terrorism is from the Terrorism Act 2000, in which it defines it to be ‘an action that endangers or causes serious violence to a person/ people or seriously interferes with or disrupts an electronic system. The use or threat must be designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public and is made from the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideology cause’ – Revised Prevent Duty. At the time of writing, the most significant terrorist threats to the UK are from terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq, as well as Al-Qaeda associated groups. Recent years have also seen an increase in support for Far-Right extremist ideologies. For example, 2017 saw the most number of people attending far-right rallies since the latter half of the twentieth century. Extremism The government defines extremism as the ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, tolerance and individual liberty’. The definition of extremism also includes calls for the deaths of a member of the armed forces, both in the UK and overseas. One report further differentiated between violent and hateful extremism, suggesting that it is the latter that serves to fuel attack through continuing to communicate such negative ideals. This is defined as being a ‘framework of behaviours, beliefs, and harms’ that are in direct contrast to Britain’s commitment to equality and human rights. Extremist beliefs exist across British society, and its continued existence requires an urgent and effective response. Radicalisation On the other hand, radicalisation refers to the process in which a person comes to sympathise with and support terrorist or extremist ideologies. There is no obvious profile of a person that is at risk of radicalisation, and the process itself can be different for each individual and ideology. Although it does not necessarily happen overnight, for some radicalisation can be a short process whereas, for others, it can occur gradually over a period of years. For example, the Far-Right extremist groups promote a narrative of a racist and cultural threat which may appeal to some. Those who support the far right convince supporters that they are not amplifying hatred but instead, telling the truth. However, such values are in direct contradiction to the British values of equality, tolerance, and democracy, and are often premised on misguided and stereotypical misconceptions. Whereas, Islamist extremists attempt to create an atmosphere that is conducive to more people supporting their cause, and to do so they may attack principles of participation and cohesion.

Who is at risk? Terrorist groups aspire to radicalise people to gain support for their ideologies, through the use of bonding, peer pressure and indoctrination. There is no distinctive way of identifying an individual who may be susceptible to being radicalised. Furthermore, the risks may depend on the area, the age of the individual and the context, and professionals also have a responsibility to understand concerns within their local region. However, there it has been suggested that there are some indicators which may indicate that a person is being drawn to terrorism, such as:

  • Behaving in a way that is out of character or secretive

  • Being rejected by others

  • Signs of being stressed or depressed

  • Linked to persons linked to extremism

  • Victim/witness to race or hate crime

  • Change in behaviour or appearances in line with ideological influences

  • Possessing Literature related to extreme views

  • Having Tattoos of symbols associated with extremist ideologies

  • Sharing extremist websites

  • Showing sympathy for extremist ideologies.

The role of social media People can be radicalised by others they already know, through contact with extremist groups, or via the internet, including social media. The internet has transformed the way we live, and the majority of us now use some form of social media regularly. However, such online platforms are also used as a way of radicalising a large number of people, with terrorist organisations often using modern technology to recruit people to their cause. This is considered to be a form of grooming, with one report by the NSPCC indicating that teenagers can be especially vulnerable.

Prevent in different contexts

Under section 26 of the 2015 Act, public sector agencies have a responsibility to ensure that staff are given specific Prevent training. Management is responsible for ensuring that professionals are also aware of any changes and that their Prevent training is kept up to date; with refresher training every three years minimum. As previously mentioned, a list of the specified authorities can be found in schedule 6 of the 2015 act, and each of the organisations included in this list should demonstrate compliance to Prevent duty.


School settings need ‘to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation to promote fundamental British values’. They have a responsibility to establish mechanisms to enable students to develop an understanding of the risk of radicalisation, or they should adopt existing ones to ensure that this has been met. Moreover, teachers and wider school staff should be able to identify children who may be at risk of radicalisation. A guidance document by the Department of Education also notes that schools should ‘provide a safe space’, in which children and young people can develop and understand the threat of radicalism and e