Youth Violence

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Craig Whittaker.)

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons) 7:17 pm, 10th October 2018

I thank those who have joined me for this extremely important debate. Reducing youth violence is an issue that I know we all care about, and even though I am a London MP this is very much a national issue. [Interruption.] One of my, very sad, Google alerts is knife crime. [Interruption.] I was reading an article where Birmingham Mail editor Marc Reeves said on “Newsnight”:

“Whatever the debate around Brexit, people are dying on the streets of Birmingham. They want to see that on the agenda for a change.” [Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. This is an important debate, so may I ask colleagues who are having other conversations to have them outside the Chamber?

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I completely agree about the importance of this debate: this should be a No. 1 priority for us. Our young people need to feel safe; they need to know that we believe in them. They are, after all, our future: our future doctors, nurses, engineers, artists, journalists, and even our future politicians. I understand that in the Gallery this evening we have a few would-be future politicians, and I thank them for coming along this evening.

I am chair of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission and we have been examining the root causes of youth violence. In July this year we published our initial policy recommendations, in which we called for the development of a public health model to tackle violence. I am delighted that since then Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has announced the establishment of a London violence reduction unit, which will follow a public health approach in the capital, and last week the Home Secretary also stated that we must treat violence as an infectious disease, backing the adoption of a public health approach. But now we must turn those words into action.

Tonight, I am focusing on the important role that youth services play in tackling youth violence and on how these services fit into a successful public health approach. I have met countless organisations up and down the country that do excellent work with young people, but cuts to youth services have left the sector hollowed out, inconsistent and disjointed, and it is young people who are ultimately losing out. Since 2010, at least £387 million has been cut from youth services, and more than 600 youth centres closed between 2012 and 2016. The only programme we see consistently funded is the National Citizen Service. While youth services have suffered real-terms cuts of 54% since 2011, funding for the NCS has increased annually, rising from a three-year allocation of £168 million when it was first set up to £181 million last year alone. The NCS is a two-week programme once a year. Our young people need year-round support. I wonder whether the NCS would pass the stringent criteria that many other charities have to go through when seeking funding.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; I sought her approval earlier to make an intervention. In my constituency, we have a Church-based, faith-based community organisation that has the support of Government bodies and the police. It is called Street Pastors, and it has significantly reduced antisocial misbehaviour and violence in my constituency. May I gently suggest to her that that might be another method of addressing the issue of youth violence and antisocial behaviour? I am more than happy to commend that organisation to her.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right. Faith groups play an instrumental role in reducing youth violence. I am thinking of my own organisations, and of a local pastor called Ben Lindsay and the wonderful work that he does in Lewisham. He also gives me wonderful advice on engaging with the faith community. I absolutely agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said.

Funding challenges have made the sector super-competitive. Local charities with similar aims have little incentive to collaborate because they are all bidding for the same pots of money. Large organisations with professional bid writers are much more likely to get funding than small charities, even if those charities are doing good work on the ground. On top of this, funding is too often allocated for short periods, and core funding is especially difficult to come by. So we are left with an environment that discourages collaboration and reinforces inconsistency.

Now, imagine we have a teenager. He has grown up in a household where he witnesses domestic violence regularly. His mother self-medicates and his father is largely absent, but when he is around he is violent. At school, he is disruptive and as he gets older he is bounced between different services. No one sticks around for particularly long and the services do not communicate with one another or share data. External involvement in this young person’s life is disjointed and inconsistent, reinforcing his belief that no one really cares about what happens to him. A young person like this is crying out for just one adult who cares, and who will stick around in their life for as long as it takes to make a difference. Research from Public Health Wales backs this up, showing that access to a trusted adult in childhood could significantly reduce the negative consequences associated with ACEs—adverse childhood experiences.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. As ever, she is making a powerful point, and she is an asset to this House and to all the people she is seeking to help. In Croydon, a review was undertaken of the 60 serious violence cases among young people, and a factor that affected every case was the lack of a trusted adult. Does she agree that not only have youth services been cut, but their professionalism has been massively downgraded? It is difficult to get through to hard-to-reach young people, and we should give what is an incredibly professional sector the attention that it deserves.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who has been doing excellent work with the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and has worked closely with the Youth Violence Commission. I know that this issue has been close to her heart ever since she was elected.

ACEs are traumatic experiences in a young person’s life that can have massive repercussions on an individual’s life chances. People who have grown up with four or more ACEs—only 9% of the population—are 10 times more likely to be involved in violence by the time they are 18, compared with the 52% of young people who have experienced no ACEs. Sustainable relationships can go some way to reducing the negative consequences of ACEs.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on securing this debate, but on her incredible work since her election in 2015 on pushing this agenda, including the public health aspect. Many people bandy “public health” around and use it to mean lots of different things, but the only way it can be successful is with a truly whole-system approach, meaning that every agency, from the police to schools to youth services, should take adverse childhood experiences into account. Does she agree that that consequently means delivering a trauma-informed approach?

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have had discussions about visiting trauma-informed schools, and we need a much bigger focus on trauma-informed approaches to understand both what they mean and the impact on young people who have experienced trauma.

Turning to some people who do understand that experience, the youth workers I have met completely understand the importance of building and maintaining relationships with the young people they work with. They know the positive impact that that can have on a young person’s life—especially a young person who may not have other adults in their life that they can rely on. They can be that positive role model. However, instead of investment in long-term sustainable relationships, we see piecemeal interventions—little pots of money invested in short programmes.

What can we do? Well, here are a few things that the Youth Violence Commission has recommended. We should develop a national youth policy framework, which would make the provision of youth work a statutory duty. We should ensure that any adult working with young people is professionally trained, especially in recognising signs of trauma. All youth workers should be trained in the same way as social workers. Policies and practices should be evidence informed and developed, and youth workers should be recognised, supported and respected in their field. We need to build young people’s resilience, ensuring that they can cope with and bounce back from adversity. We should provide positive role models and peer mentors to raise low aspirations and self-confidence.

The youth sector is currently an unregulated marketplace. While we want to see innovation, we also want to ensure that we hold youth work to nationally recognised standards. We need a much more consistent approach, with a focus on long-term results, not short-term interventions. Youth centres need to be open access and safe spaces for young people. It should go without saying, but key to youth work is listening to the voices of young people. It should not take a genius to recognise this, but the experiences and views of young people should be at the core of and inform the delivery of youth services. When the Youth Violence Commission conducted the safer lives survey, we asked young people, “If there was one thing you could change that you think would make young people safer, what would it be?” and the most popular response was the provision of more youth centres, sports clubs and other youth activities in their local areas.

I asked the Home Office to respond to this debate as well, because this is not a matter DCMS can tackle by itself, but I do have some questions I would like the Minister here to answer. Youth workers, teachers and police officers told the commission that the most dangerous time for knife attacks involving young people is between 3 pm and 6 pm—after school finishes and before parents finish work—but the Office for National Statistics, the Met police, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, city hall’s London Datastore, London ambulance dispatch data, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and the wonderful House of Commons Library were unable to get us data on the times at which knife attacks take place. When professionals in the field are consistently raising concerns about after-school attacks and grooming, why is this data not published? Will the Minister commit to obtaining the data and publishing it? Does she agree that after-school youth work and activities could help to keep young people safe?

I do not believe that we will ever reduce the level of violence without addressing ACEs. I worry that too many people in Parliament do not understand the impact of ACEs, although I am glad that the expertise of Norman Lamb, who unfortunately is not present, informed our recommendations. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the impact of ACEs and developing a plan to reduce them? Will the Government commit to reviewing the funding model for the sector to ensure it is more collaborative and less competitive, so that we can deliver a regulated youth service that any young person can access, as and when they need it?

Many young people have said to me that they are treated like they are part of the problem when they should be at the heart of the solution. What consultations have the Government conducted with young people to find out what kind of youth provision they want? Finally, I sent the Minister a copy of the Youth Violence Commission’s interim report, and I was glad to hear that she has read our recommendations in detail. Will she commit to or comment on the parts of the report that relate to reforming youth services and the sector?

If the Government are serious about adopting a public health strategy, it is the responsibility of every Department to understand and address the root causes of violence. Youth services play a role in tackling youth violence, as do schools, councils, social workers, hospitals, mental health services, the police and every other service that touches the life of a young person. A genuine public health approach to violence must be cross-departmental and cross-party, so I hope the Minister will raise my concerns with her Department and her counterparts across Government. I look forward to hearing her response to my questions.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 7:33 pm, 10th October 2018

I thank Vicky Foxcroft for bringing this subject to the Floor of the House. I also thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate on a sensitive but important issue.

It might surprise the House to hear this ministerial confession, but I read the interim report of the Youth Violence Commission in preparation for this debate. I can honestly say, as the daughter of a social worker who spent his entire career working with children and families, that it is exactly the kind of commission that, as a Back Bencher, I would have wanted to be a part of. The report is excellent and makes an extremely important contribution to this complex area of policy.

I know that the hon. Lady will understand that, of the recommendations outlined in the report, only those regarding youth services fall within my portfolio, so I apologise to her and to the House for not being able to go into the detail of other departmental policy areas with the same degree of confidence that I do on my own. However, I will make sure that my private office circulates her speech to colleagues who are affected by the subject. I am not sure that I can answer the questions she posed in her peroration, because they do not fall within my brief. For example, although I understand some of the connections between ACEs and youth services, the issue probably falls more squarely within the remit of colleagues at the Department for Education who deal with social services. I am also not entirely sure that the collection of data on knife attacks falls within my Department’s remit. However, those are valid and important questions to ask, so I will make sure that colleagues who may be responsible will provide her with answers.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful that the Minister will raise these issues with other Departments, but part of the public health approach is about ensuring that all those different Departments work together on developing the solution.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I am now something of an expert on cross-departmental strategies, having been the Minister responsible for the sports strategy, which involves 10 Departments, for the Office for Civil Society strategy, which involves numerous Departments, and for the forthcoming loneliness strategy, which covers nine Departments. I therefore completely appreciate and understand the important point she is making.

Although I might not know all the answers to the hon. Lady’s questions, I do know that this Government have no higher priority for young people than to keep them safe, which is why I am pleased to say that we broadly welcome the commission’s recommendations, some of which anticipated policy announcements we have since made. There is much that we can agree on: the roots to the problem of youth violence are complex and there are no quick fixes; the solution does not lie with any particular Department or single part of the community; and we need a systematic approach, backed by strong and consistent leadership. I am sure that we can all agree that the Home Secretary’s recent announcement on consulting on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to serious violence is welcome. That would mean that police officers, education partners, and local authority and healthcare professionals would have a new legal duty to take action and prevent violent crime. That statutory duty would make tackling serious violence a top priority for all key partners, ensuring that all agencies are working together to prevent young people being caught in the criminal cycle.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

When I saw the Home Secretary’s announcement, I questioned how the situation would be any different from these people’s current responsibilities under crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which were introduced under the last Labour Government. I appreciate that this is not necessarily the Minister’s responsibility, but I would be grateful if she could elaborate somehow on how the duty would enhance existing responsibilities, which do require these people to work together to prevent crime.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I would not dream of inadvertently misleading the House by trying to respond to a question for another Department to which I would not know the answer. However, there is a Home Office official in the Box this evening, and they will be able to provide a written response to the hon. Lady’s questions. I am sure that Home Office questions are also just around the corner.

An essential part of the approach, as the report notes, will be to address early intervention. The bit of money I am responsible for—the £90 million dormant accounts money that was recently announced—and the £200 million youth endowment fund announced by the Home Secretary will help to address this issue. I am not pretending that they will solve the issues, but both are designed to provide long-term support and learning.

The commission also calls for a reform of youth services. I agree with a number of the points in that section of the report, including the finding that funding and services are fragmented and siloed. The House might have missed it, but in early August I published the civil society strategy, within which I committed to a review of the statutory duty for local authority youth services. If, following that review, the guidance needs to be strengthened, we will do so. However, this is not all about the Government, and that was very much acknowledged in the commission’s report. We need the public, private, social and faith sectors to work much more closely at a community level.

It is really important that the House gets to celebrate the positive role that youth work can play in keeping our young people safe. I recognise, as I am sure we all do, the transformational impact that high-quality interventions can have on all young people, but especially on those who are vulnerable to exploitation or at risk of making poor life choices. We value the role that community youth organisations have in building trust between young people and the wider community. They can play an important role in signposting and facilitating access to services and overcoming barriers to engagement. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that there have been cuts to local authority youth services, but there has also been substantial innovation in new forms of delivery—not least in the hon. Lady’s home borough, where Youth First, the mutual that delivers youth services in Lewisham, has received direct funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to develop its capacity.

It is also worth acknowledging the support that the Home Office is giving to the “For Jimmy” project in three schools in Deptford as part of the Safe Havens programme. A trusted relationship with a responsible adult or peer, a safe space, and finding a “teachable moment” are key parts of the youth work approach and we support them.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about what she has just said, but I know that she recognises that youth services have had significant reductions in resource, which has led to a hollowing out of youth services across the country. The voluntary and community sector alone cannot fill that gap. Will she use her leadership role, which we all applaud, to make sure not only that the rhetoric is there, but that the resource is there too?

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

That is the reason for the review of the statutory guidance. This is provided by local authorities, but we do recognise that there is a difference of service delivery across the board, which is why we are having a look at it as part of the civil society strategy.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

We all recognise the Minister’s intense interest in these matters and we thank her for that. In my intervention on Vicky Foxcroft, I referred to faith groups. I note that the Minister has referred to them as well. Has she had any chance to speak to some of the street pastors, because these faith groups in the community do great work on a voluntary basis? I am saying not that we should take advantage of their voluntary work, but that they want to do it. Has she had an opportunity to consider that?

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I meet regularly with a whole variety of faith groups on a number of different issues, not just as a Minister, but, of course, in my own constituency. I completely recognise and value the work that faith groups do, especially when they work in partnership with many other different organisations.

Let me talk a bit more about the funding that is available. At present, DCMS, together with the Big Lottery Fund, is investing £40 million in the Youth Investment Fund to directly support community youth provision across England, including in London and the west midlands, both of which are areas of concern. There is also a further £40 million investment going into the #iwill fund, which supports young people to take action on the issues that they care about. One of the key points that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford made in her speech was about making sure that young people themselves are engaged in the delivery of some of those services.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the National Citizen Service, whose central aim—the social mixing of young people from all kinds of backgrounds—is absolutely key. On a recent visit to a NCS programme in another south London borough, I was able to meet many of those youngsters and hear their positive experiences of NCS.

I also believe that it is worth giving some examples of exactly how DCMS funding is having an effect. Redthread, a charity with a 20-year track record in supporting young people through health and education programmes, is a really good example. Its youth violence intervention work puts key workers in hospital emergency departments so that they can engage with young people at their most vulnerable and help them to put their lives back together when they most need it. The Government are supporting the extension of this work from its London base to Nottingham and Birmingham.

The only effective solutions are proven to be the ones that connect young people to their loved ones, their neighbourhood and the wider society. There are many other recommendations in the report and I feel that my brief response just on youth services does not do them justice. However, there was one other point that was made in the report that I really want to pick up on. In the section on increasing employment opportunities, there is a reference to the shortage of black, Asian and minority ethnic role models involved in schools and youth organisations. I think we can extend that across the board, and I say to the hon. Lady that, with my other hat on—that of Sports Minister— I really share the concern that she and the other commissioners had. I have been working with sporting organisations to see how we can change that. Many youngsters look up to sports stars, whatever the sport, and we quite often use sport as an intervention programme within youth and serious violence services. If young people do not have those role models and do not see someone they can relate to, how can they ever believe that there is something out there for them and that can they achieve further? We need more BME leaders in sport from the grassroots to the top of the elite sporting pyramid. I feel very strongly about that and was pleased to see it included in that section of the report.

We recognise that there have been recent increases in murders, gun crime and knife crime, with those increases accompanied by a shift towards younger victims and perpetrators. However, statistics do not matter for a nanosecond to those caught up in the awful consequences of violence—the victim, their family and friends, and their communities—and the impact of such crimes is devastating. That was why the Government published the serious violence strategy earlier this year. The strategy represents a step change in how we think about and respond to serious violence. In particular, the strategy stresses the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of serious violence and provide young people with the skills and resilience to lead productive lives free from violence.

Although the causes and consequences of youth violence are often complex, effective solutions need not be. They can come from partnerships across Government, local councils, the criminal justice system, the voluntary sector and, most importantly, within communities themselves. This is the approach outlined in the interim report, and we all look forward to the commission’s final report. Until then, I shall conclude by thanking not only the hon. Lady, but the other commissioners, the advisory and academic team, the secretariat and, of course, all those who gave evidence to ensure that future policy development on this issue is considered responsibly and consistently throughout central and local government.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.