Youth Violence (London)

– in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 16th September 2010.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.- (Angela Watkinson .)

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham 6:00 pm, 16th September 2010

I thank Mr Speaker for choosing this subject for this evening's Adjournment debate. As is the custom, I should declare an interest: I have sat on the boards of various youth groups in my community and still sit on the board of the Generation Next Foundation, a group that works with young people in my community. I know that several hon. Members wish to intervene, and I will give way after I have made some progress, but possibly only to those who have forewarned me given the short time that we have.

I wish to start by saying a word about London's youth. I think our youth are fantastic. They are full of energy and life, vibrant and hugely talented, and they are absolutely part of what makes this city great. I am glad that we have four great young people in the Gallery with us today from Lambeth's youth council, including our youth mayor. I do not want this debate to detract from those comments, as the worst thing that we can do is demonise our young people. We should not forget that 99% of London's youth are not involved in serious youth violence, and in that regard I commend the work of 99percent.org.uk on its campaign to promote positive perceptions of our young people.

However, we have a problem in London and have had for years. We know it, and our young people certainly know it, because too many of them are living with the fear that it will affect them right now. The year 2007 was a watershed, when the problem of youth violence became a big national issue. That year, 25 young people lost their lives in London, one of whom was Andre Smartt-Ford, a 17-year-old who was shot dead in broad daylight at Streatham ice rink in my constituency. We have still to bring those responsible to justice.

In 2010 the problem may not be so severe, but it continues. In my view, one young life lost to violence on our streets is one too many. Some 1,230 teenagers in London have been victims of knife crime this year, and there have been 145 teenage gun crime victims. Those are the numbers sustaining non-fatal injuries, but in the calendar year to date 15 teenagers have been murdered in London. One of them was my constituent Zac Olumegbon, whose killing I raised in the House with the Prime Minister on 7 July. In my area, tensions between gangs operating in the community have been high since Zac's death and the situation has been precarious, with several non-fatal stabbings and shootings having taken place. In fact, only last Friday in the Tulse Hill part of my constituency, one teenager was shot in the face by a gunman on a bike while trying to get on a bus.

Such things are increasingly turning into a regular occurrence in my constituency and across London. Yes, many of the teenagers affected are involved in gangs, but just because much of what happens is gang-related does not mean that we can wash our hands of it. It is our problem. These are our young people, and this violence is a scar on our community, whatever our background and circumstances.

The causes of the violence are complex and varied, as I think we all know. I am convinced of four things. We need more activities and things for our young people to do to divert them away from the gang-related activity that leads to violence, and we need more job and training opportunities for them. We need more family support, and particularly support to help adults give young people more of their time, in the context of a country in which we work the longest hours in western Europe. Of course, we need more police on our streets to help deal with the problem, and also appropriate sanctions. That list is not exhaustive, but those things are crucial.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour, Walthamstow

I thank my hon. Friend for giving that important list. Does he agree about the importance of involving young people directly in resolving some of the problems? I refer particularly to the work on teaching mediation in schools. I want to mention the young people I met today from the Lammas school in Walthamstow. They had been through Leap-accredited training in peer mediation, and are dealing effectively with what they call the misunderstandings in their schools as a way of preventing violence from escalating in our local communities in London.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham

Hear, hear. I agree with my hon. Friend-Leap does fantastic work in London. Such community and voluntary organisations are literally saving lives. They have a role, and the family has a big role, but so do Government. I have several deep concerns, which I hope the Minister will address, about the Government's future role.

Some youth services in my area are delivered directly by the local authority, but it also commissions local community groups to provide many services. Of course, the authority gets much of its funding from central Government. That pattern is repeated throughout London. We are essentially drinking from the same trough and have been receiving moneys from the same central Government funds.

Let me start with Lambeth's youth offending team-there are many youth offending teams across London. It works with young people in the community to prevent them from offending and getting involved in serious crime. It is funded by the Youth Justice Board and does hugely important work. On 20 August, during the recess, Community Care reported that the Youth Justice Board was to be abolished in the name of efficiency. Is that correct? If so, where will the youth offending teams in London get their funding? Will they be funded by the same amount?

The previous Government put in place the youth crime action plan, which was doing many positive things in my constituency, including getting former gang members to engage with young people and establishing youth worker street teams. That helped to prevent disorder and crime, and we were also looking to expand youth centre provision. My borough received £350,000 for this year and another £350,000 for next year. No doubt other boroughs received those funds too. Will the Government continue to fund the implementation of the plan when the money runs out next year? Will the level of funding be maintained?

We also received funding from the working neighbourhoods fund this year, and we have moneys for 2011 from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which we used to address worklessness in our area. We have a disproportionately high youth unemployment rate in Lambeth. The Government announced the abolition of the fund in June. What will they replace it with?

As part of Lambeth's area-based grant, it receives £9 million for a range of preventive services, from Connexions to school grants. The cuts that have been demanded of Lambeth this year mean that we have to make cuts of around £2.5 million to the grants. I do not understand how our youth provision will not be affected by that. Does the Minister have any idea of the effect that that will have on youth provision in my community? What will the Government do about it?

Again, the list of funds and support is not exhaustive, but it is substantial. It is crucial that we have the moneys so that we can channel the energy of our youth in a positive direction, away from the activities that lead to violence and, tragically, sometimes to the loss of young lives.

Policing is another big issue. While we must properly fund youth provision, we also need effective, visible policing to help deal with problems when they flare up. I pay tribute to the work of the many police in my borough, who do a fantastic job of keeping our streets safe.

Last Friday, the Police Federation chair said that a touch of ideology and bad advice to Government from think-tanks had left the police service facing cuts that could leave up to 40,000 officers out of a job. Yesterday, as the Minister will know, the Home Secretary responded at the Superintendents Association conference. She said:

"The front line is the last place police should look to make savings-not the first."

I spoke with some members of a safer neighbourhood team in my constituency on Saturday. We have eight safer neighbourhood teams which do sterling work and are very much supported by the community. They made it clear to me that they have already made savings by systematically attacking overheads throughout the force, not least at headquarters, in the way that the Home Secretary has demanded. They are already cut to the bone. What guarantees can the Minister give my community, and London in general, that police numbers will not be reduced?

Many of these funding cuts have been implemented in the name of deficit reduction.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison Conservative, Battersea

I have great empathy with everything that the hon. Gentleman says as we have the same issues in my neighbouring constituency. However, in his original list, he did not touch on family as one of the elements involved. Chaotic family situations need to be addressed over the next generation, and it would be a shame if he concluded his remarks without acknowledging that.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham

I did mention the role of the family, when I referred to community groups. However, I agree with the hon. Lady and I thank her for bringing the matter up. In fact, I have just been discussing that very issue at length with the young people who are watching us in the Gallery. The importance of the family, and support for it, is a big issue. In our borough-the hon. Lady will know this as a neighbour-one problem is with children having children, as we have quite a high rate of teenage pregnancy. We have fantastic groups such as the St Michael's Fellowship which works with young mums and dads to teach them and support them in becoming fantastic parents. However, that also requires funding. I do not think that funding is the only answer, but if we are to have more youth workers and people who can sit down with young parents and teach them what it is to be a parent, the money will have to come from somewhere. In the current economic climate, corporate social responsibility funds from the private sector and charitable foundations are not what they were five or six years ago. That is why the role of the Government is so important- [ Interruption. ] Richard Fuller shakes his head, but that role is important.

If we invest in prevention-in occupying our young people with decent things to do that can expand their horizons and increase their opportunities-it reduces the chances of them entering the criminal justice system. We know how much it costs to put a young person through that system. In the long term, therefore, it would actually cost us more as a community not to spend money addressing this issue than it would to invest the money now.

The youth activities and services that are being funded in London are helping not only to provide the future opportunities that I have mentioned, and to ensure that our young people can achieve their full potential, but to divert them away from violence. It is worth emphasising again that the people working in this arena are saving lives. We cannot put a price on reducing youth violence on London's streets. We have to do everything that we can to reduce that. What my constituents want to know is what the new Government will do about this. Will they cut off the support that we have and need, or will they live up to their duty to our young people?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 6:14 pm, 16th September 2010

I thank Mr Umunna for raising the important issue of youth violence in London. Over the last few years, sadly, we have had several debates about youth violence. It is clear that the issue of violent crime remains a stubborn feature of our society. We need to do more to protect young people from violence and to empower local communities to work together to prevent the spread of violence. There is common agreement on that.

The hon. Gentleman takes a particular interest in this matter. He referred to the fact that he is the trustee of the Generation Next Foundation, and he is a former trustee of the 409 Project, so he has taken a close interest in youth issues and the impact of youth violence over an extended period. I note his approach and welcome a number of his comments. He referred to the sad and tragic murder in his constituency of Zac Olumegbon, and I extend the Government's condolences to his family and all other families who have lost loved ones through violence. Although we may not always agree on the means to prevent violence, I am sure that all of us here today agree that one young death is one too many, as he said.

As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, we know that the vast majority of young people are well-behaved and that it is a minority we need to focus on, which is why I welcome the campaign led by London's Serious Youth Violence Board, which highlights the fact that 99% of young Londoners are law-abiding and contribute positively to their communities. We should celebrate that fact. It is worth recognising that young people in our communities volunteer and take part in their communities probably more than any other group in our society, and I do not think we do anything by seeking to stigmatise or create a false impression of the situation. I welcome, congratulate and celebrate that, and it is important that we draw attention to it here.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour, Walthamstow

I welcome the Minister's support for the youth voluntary sector, but how does he square that with the Government's decision this year to cut the final round of the youth sector development fund grant, which was funding many small voluntary third sector organisations that were doing precisely the sort of work he has just talked about and said we need to do more of?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I will come on to the issue of funding later, but the hon. Lady needs to recognise that there are real challenges here, in terms of the existing financial situation and the funding issues, and obviously the Government's priority is to ensure that the economy is put on a strong footing. We will, therefore, be looking very closely at these decisions. However, given that the comprehensive spending review has not yet concluded-we will be announcing the details on 20 October-it is not appropriate or helpful for me to speculate.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham

On the spending review, can the Minister give us any comfort that the Government will look at the cost of putting a young person through the criminal justice system when they consider funding for the third sector? I referred to that in my speech.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it is one reason we are considering issues of early intervention and prevention, and the focus on preventing young people from reaching the criminal justice system. I have characterised it in the past as conveyor belt crime. By focusing on early intervention, we can make a difference. For example, that is why we will take Sure Start back to its original purpose, which was early intervention, increasing its focus on the neediest families and better involving organisations with a track record of supporting families.

I noted contributions made on both sides of the House about the issue of family. For me, one of the most powerful statistics that has struck me over the past few years is that young people in this country spend more time with their peers than with their families than in any other European country.

That issue-cohesion, the role of the family and the support that lies behind that-is an important one that we need to focus on. I am therefore pleased that the issue of family has been focused on in this debate. In that context, I want to pay tribute to those families who have been tragically touched by such appalling incidents. I am always humbled and inspired by the parents, brothers and sisters who have sadly lost loved ones, and by how they are making an enormous contribution by seeking to make a difference and change our society in so many ways, so that it becomes that much safer.

I also want to pay tribute to the work of the Metropolitan Police Service in tackling youth violence in London. Just one example of that is Operation Blunt 2. For more than two years, this dedicated team has been targeting stop-and-search powers to take weapons off our streets. Since April this year alone, it has carried out 55,759 searches and 5,629 weapons sweeps, and seized 591 weapons. In order to ensure that stop-and-search has strong community support, the team has also been engaged with the communities affected by youth violence, who have welcomed this engagement and the significant resources going into keeping them safe.

The Metropolitan police also leads Operation Trident, which is aimed at gun crime, particularly-but not exclusively-where both the victims and suspects are from black communities. The work is developed with community members and independent advisers, because the Metropolitan police understands that communities are a part of the solution to these challenging problems. During 2009-10, Operation Trident seized a third more lethally-barrelled firearms-a total of 104-than in the previous year, and disrupted 75 criminal networks.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Minister (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

There is some concern about the use of the phrase "black-on-black violence", which has been attached to Operation Trident, and a desire to review that in the light of the complexity of backgrounds of inner-city youth in London. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm whether a decision has been made by Boris-the Mayor of London-to cut the marketing budget of Operation Trident? It is important that we should be able to communicate with the young people of London in order to deflect them from crime, so can the Minister comment on whether that is, in fact, true?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the complexity of the problems surrounding this difficult issue. I am afraid that I cannot give him a direct answer to the specific point that he raises about any decision that the Mayor may or may not have made on Operation Trident. However, I should be happy to make inquiries and, as required, write to him if that would be of assistance to him. What I can tell him is that the Mayor of London has recently appointed an expert advisory group made up of members of the black communities to support him on a number of those complex issues. The information I have is that the Mayor remains focused on the issue, recognising the difficulties, challenges and complexities that many hon. Members have highlighted in this debate.

There is much more work being led by the Metropolitan police and partners in London. A new anti-violence board brings together partners in the police, health, education, offender management and the community, along with parents. It will focus on the most dangerous offenders, hot-spot locations and protecting the most vulnerable victims. In addition, this year the Home Office is providing £700,000 to tackle youth violence in the capital. Lambeth, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Streatham, is one area benefiting from that funding.

I also want to highlight the Mayor's "Time for Action" programme, which recognises that to reduce youth violence we must ensure that young Londoners are a valued part of their communities and that they can contribute in meaningful ways. The programme focuses on: for the first time, giving young offenders in custody the tools to get them into work; tackling truancy; supporting young people in care to go to university; promoting sport; working with uniformed organisations to help build young peoples' character; and sharing good practice.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the Mayor's work to encourage the mentoring of at-risk black boys in Lambeth and other boroughs. The issue of young black men being disproportionately at risk of being victims and offenders is a challenging one-a fact that has rightly been brought to our attention in the debate tonight-and I certainly support all the initiatives that show a determination to take this on.

So there is an impressive array of work going on in the capital aimed at keeping young people safe. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in extending thanks to all those in London-the police, the Mayor, local authorities, community leaders and those in the local communities-who have worked so hard to contribute to this difficult work. Some of those excellent projects are currently being visited by Brooke Kinsella, whose brother Ben was tragically murdered in London two years ago. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have asked Brooke to head up a fact-finding mission to assess the work going on across the country to tackle youth violence. I am very pleased to have her working with us, but sorry that it was the loss of her brother that drew her into this work.

Brooke is visiting projects in London and across the country that are working to prevent young people from getting pulled into a world of violence. I know that she has visited some of the good work that is under way in the constituency of the hon. Member for Streatham, and seen a great deal of dedicated voluntary and community sector work with young people. Her findings will be presented to the Home Secretary later this year, to help to shape the Government's work in tackling serious violence among young people.

I would like to take this opportunity to place on record the Government's appreciation of Ms Kinsella's dedication. I know that the projects she has visited have appreciated her time and support for their work to protect young people, and that she has been inspired by some of the excellent and varied work being led by local communities up and down the country. Some of those projects have been funded through the Home Office community fund, which, since 2009, has provided 144 small community organisations with £10,000 each per year to stop young people committing violence. I know that funding is always an issue, and in the current financial climate, that will continue to be the case. However, I know that Brooke has been very impressed at the work being undertaken, often with minimal funding but always with a great deal of commitment, hard work and community good will.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

Mr Umunna made some excellent points in his speech, and there was only one matter in which I had cause to disagree with him. That was when he described the pessimism about the response of the private sector and corporations. We are talking about crimes against young people in London, which is a centre for many businesses and corporations. Does the Minister accept that this Government, having inherited the current financial situation and therefore being able to do less themselves, have a responsibility to encourage those who are able to create great profits in this same city to do more, using measures such as social impact bonds and early intervention? What can he do to encourage more to happen on that front?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My hon. Friend mentions social impact bonds and other means of drawing funding together from a range of different sectors. He might be aware of some of the innovative work that has been done in Peterborough prison to look at outcome-based issues and the structuring of a payment-by-results method. The Government are really looking to achieve positive results, and we are certainly looking closely at the way in which the third sector and the private sector can be joined together to make a combined difference. In raising the issue of the role of the private sector and of corporate social responsibility, my hon. Friend has made an important and powerful point.

I also want to touch on the work of the Victims Commissioner, and to reassure families that this Government are committed to supporting victims of crime through the criminal justice system. That is an important aspect of all this. Since Victim Support's homicide service was set up earlier this year, it has supported 457 individuals from more than 200 families, including after the tragic events in Cumbria. This service ensures that families bereaved by murder and manslaughter benefit from a professional caseworker and tailored, intensive support. I also want to draw the House's attention to the work of Louise Casey, the Victims Commissioner. In her inaugural public speech, she outlined her first impressions of victim and witness care, and talked about how we could take the work further forward.

I am conscious that the end of the debate is drawing near, but I want briefly to mention the accident and emergency data-sharing work that is under way to ensure that we have good information, as well as the sentencing review that is being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice and the work being done on gang injunctions-

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).