I beg to move,
That this House
has considered a public health model to reduce youth violence.
There is something particularly poignant about discussing serious violence, its terrible ramifications and a public health approach towards it in the days leading up to Christmas. It is poignant because some families will be facing their first Christmas without a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a father or a mother. For them, this season of good will and celebration will be filled with grief, longing and loss, so this debate is well timed. Looking around, I can see many Members in the Chamber this afternoon who have particular constituency issues, and I hope that they will help the House to understand them. I also hope that at the conclusion of the debate we will have discovered not just the Government’s approach to tackling serious violence, but the will of the House to work together to stop these terrible crimes. We are all committed to breaking the deadly cycle of violence, and the Government published our serious violence strategy earlier this year, which outlines an ambitious programme of work to tackle the issue.
It is important to state for the people watching this debate just how worried this House is. Over 40 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 have died from violence this year in London alone—over 40—but there are fewer than 30 Members in the Chamber debating this important issue right now. What does she say to people watching these proceedings who think, “Do you know what? That lot just do not care”? Look at these empty green Benches. How will the Minister explain them to people watching right now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who contributes a great deal through the serious violence taskforce, which is chaired by the Home Secretary and brings together colleagues from across the House and people from local government, Whitehall Departments, the police, health and so on to try to tease out ways of tackling serious violence. I understand his point. It is of course for each Member of Parliament to decide which debates to attend. However, looking at the colleagues who are here, I know that they have all paid particular attention to this issue in their constituencies and in conversations with me and other Ministers. I hope that there will be more people in the Chamber for future such debates, but anyone watching should rest assured that, although the Benches may not be as full today as the hon. Gentleman and I would like, a great deal of work is going on outside this Chamber.
The taskforce has met five times—it meets pretty much every month, although there may have been a period of five weeks between one or two meetings. There was a meeting only last week that I was unfortunately unable to attend because I was required for a debate in the House, but the next meeting is on
The Minister acknowledges that this is a huge problem and that the murder rate is at its highest since 2008, with the 130th homicide of the year in London happening earlier this week. Will she therefore explain why we are taking so long to get on to the public health model? It was deployed in Glasgow in 2005 and efforts and initiatives by groups such as Redthread have been going since 2005, so why is it taking so long to get this model going?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the serious violence strategy, which I am about to come on to, sets out the cross-governmental, multi-agency approach to the public health model. He mentions Redthread, so I hope he knows that the Home Office has been funding charities such as Redthread, St Giles Trust and other important and valuable contributors from the charitable sphere for some time now, because we recognise that law enforcement and policing is not the only answer. Of course it is important, but we want to get to the early causes of crime to prevent young people in particular from being dragged into criminality and snared by gangs, particularly in the case of county lines.
I share the concern of others about the horrifying death toll. I pay tribute to the work of the Youth Violence Commission in highlighting these issues. Given that we are considering a public health approach in this debate, is the Minister conscious of the clear correlation between people experiencing adversity, trauma, abuse and neglect in their early years and the emergence of mental ill health, exclusion from school, violence and so on? Does she agree that it is vital that we apply the evidence of what works in those early years to prevent such trauma from becoming entrenched and, potentially, to prevent violence?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his work on this subject over the years, and I join him in paying tribute to the work of the Youth Violence Commission. I absolutely agree about adverse childhood experiences. He will know there is a new inter-ministerial group, chaired by the Leader of the House, focusing on the first two years of life. I invited myself on to that group because it is of such interest to my portfolio.
When I speak to young people who are involved in gangs, and to their youth workers, the prevalence of domestic abuse is sadly a theme that runs through these young people’s lives. That is why I hope the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill will have an immediate impact not just on violence committed in people’s homes but on the longer-term consequences of ensuring that children do not witness such violence and abuse in what should be their ultimate place of safety—their home. That can have long-term adverse impacts in their adult and teenage years.
The serious violence strategy sets out our understanding of recent increases in serious violence, our analysis of the trends and drivers, as well as the risks, and the protective factors that can help to tackle them. As a result, it places a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention, and it aims to tackle the root causes of the problem, alongside ensuring a robust law enforcement response.
The strategy sets out our response under four key themes: tackling county lines and the misuse of drugs; early intervention and prevention; supporting communities and local partnerships; and the law enforcement and criminal justice response. The strategy is very clear that tackling serious violence is not a law enforcement issue alone and that it requires a multi-agency approach involving a range of organisations, partners and agencies, including education, health, social services, housing and youth services. It supports a public health approach to tackling serious violence, which I suspect has the support of the House.
I always enjoy the company of my colleagues on the Treasury Bench. In fairness, those Ministers may not be here today, but they are there at meetings of the serious violence taskforce, the inter-ministerial group on serious violence and the inter-ministerial group on the first two years of life. There is a great deal of Whitehall involvement, and there has to be, because we have to ensure that all relevant Government Departments, at both national and local level, are involved if we are to provide a wrap-around approach to tackling violence.
The trends and analysis show that this violence is based around male-on-male offending, alongside a shift to younger offenders. Young black men are disproportionately represented as both victims and perpetrators, and although the rise in violence is national, particular communities are being disproportionately hurt by this terrible violence. The strategy is clear that a range of factors are likely to be driving the rise in serious violence, but the most notable driver is the drugs market.
Crack cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence, supported by the growth in county lines, which is also strongly linked to violence. The latest evidence suggests that crack use is rising in England and Wales and that county lines drug dealing, which is associated with hard class A drugs, has spread.
I thank the Minister for the work she is doing and for always being available when we want to speak to her, which is appreciated.
It is true that the increase in drug use is driving some of these issues, but at least three quarters of knife crime is not gang-related in that way. People are carrying knives and getting involved in knife crime for completely different reasons, and it is important that we bear that in mind as we look at the evidence.
The hon. Lady, who has done so much work in her constituency and in the House on knife crime, not least through chairing the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, is absolutely right. Sadly, we know that more young people are carrying knives because they think, wrongly, that it will offer them protection. That is where education is critical.
I am extremely grateful for the work the APPG and the associated charities are doing to try to educate young people. One has only to visit the Ben Kinsella Trust, for example, to see the powerful message it delivers, as one makes one’s way around the exhibition, that carrying a knife simply does not offer such protection. Indeed, many young people are killed by their own knives. That is very much part of the early-intervention work, which I will outline in detail.
Social media is a driving force in serious violence and in escalating gang violence, due to the reaction of young people to supposed signs of disrespect or, indeed, encouragements to commit violence. A range of risk factors can affect a person’s vulnerability and susceptibility to becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence through a range of adverse childhood experiences, such as domestic abuse, truancy and exclusion. The strategy also sets out the evidence and support for targeted interventions that can help to mitigate and protect children and young people from these factors.
I will talk first about tackling county lines and the misuse of drugs, because county lines is the first of the four key areas of action set out in our strategy. County lines is a horrific form of child criminal exploitation, and it involves high levels of violence. I am grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House for raising awareness of county lines. Sadly, in the last year or so, we have all become familiar with county lines, and it is precisely because of the questions posed in debates in this place, as well as a very informed campaign by the police and others, that the public are now much more aware of this type of crime.
We have a cross-Government programme of action to tackle county lines, which includes investing £3.6 million to establish a new national county lines co-ordination centre to enhance our intelligence capability and to support cross-border working to disrupt county lines criminality, while also ensuring that vulnerable children and young people are identified and safeguarded.
The new centre became fully operational in September, and it carried out its first week of intensification, to use the police terminology, in October, which resulted in 505 arrests and 320 individuals being safeguarded. That is an extraordinary amount of work in one week, and it shows the scale of the challenge to policing and social services colleagues. The serious violence strategy sets out further measures we will take to enhance our response to drugs, building on the drugs strategy of 2017 and providing further support in targeted areas, such as through heroin and cocaine action areas.
As has already been mentioned, the evidence to support early intervention is set out in our strategy, and a focus on early intervention and prevention is at the heart of a public health approach. That is why we have already delivered on our early intervention youth fund, allocating £17.7 million to 29 projects that will focus on diverting vulnerable young people and those who have already offended away from crime. The projects, supported by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales, will work with young people who are already involved in criminality or who have already offended, and with organisations safeguarding those at risk of gang exploitation and county lines, to deliver interventions to help them into positive life choices. Earlier this year, we also launched a major social media advertising campaign aimed at teenagers, #knifefree, to raise awareness of the consequences of knife crime and discourage young people from carrying knives. That has been supported with the creation of a #knifefree lesson plan and resources for teachers to use in schools.
As I have said previously, a multi-agency approach and local partnerships are vital. That is why we placed PCCs at the heart of our early intervention youth fund and why we are running a series of engagement events for interested and relevant agencies and partners across England and Wales. The aim of the events is to increase awareness of the strategy’s key messages and actions, and understand what action is being taken locally. The events allow partners to share good practice and feedback on further support and what further action needs to be taken. Three events have already taken place in London, Luton and Bristol, and at least 10 further events will take place next year. I have attended one of them and they are very powerful programmes, allowing people to give good advice and to ask questions to improve their local response. We have also made available funding of £1.5 million for 68 projects from the anti-knife crime community fund. The funding supports communities to tackle knife crime, including through early intervention and education, as well as mentoring and outreach work. I hope hon. Members have received letters from me informing them of local projects that have received those donations.
Finally, the strategy sets out further action we will take to enhance the law enforcement and criminal justice response, including tackling social media and continued targeted action on knife crime. On
Will the Minister, in her conversations, encourage the police to use the powers they have? Let me give one example on this. A gang who were glorifying violence were convicted and banned from making any music videos—putting them online—unless the police gave their approval. The police then approved one video that had shocking lyrics glorifying gun violence. No wonder campaigners have their head in their hands when the police make decisions such as that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I was grateful for the particular interest he took in the Offensive Weapons Bill. I am not familiar with the case he has raised, but if he provides me with the details, I will certainly look into it. When the police ask us for powers we do our level best to provide them, but I, too, would like to see those powers used sensibly when they are provided.
I want to caution against being too flippant when it comes to social media. There are big issues to address, but a lot of music that is online, drill music and stuff on YouTube, in particular, is an expression of an environment in which people find themselves, not an expression of intent. That is where the difference lies and that is what the police have to tackle. Someone expressing what is around in their community, what they see and their lived experience is very different from someone expressing intent to do something—that is the difference.
I listen to and consider that with great care, but I must make the point that I would like to support our young people and give them the reassurance that if they do not want to be listening to or watching videos that are incredibly violent—as I say, I am not familiar with the example my hon. Friend Huw Merriman provided—we can take a stand and say, “Actually, we don’t want to see those levels of violence online, because it helps feed a narrative and a very negative atmosphere for our young people.” This is one of the debates we will continue to have, not least through the introduction of the online harms White Paper, and in the context of not just serious violence, but depictions of women in music videos. This is one of the big debates of our time, but I would not want our young people to think that we feel it is okay for music videos to be targeting them with images of extreme violence, with foul language and with foul depictions. We should be doing a bit better than that for our young people.
I will indeed write to my hon. Friend, but I should make it absolutely clear that I was not talking about an “environmental issue” and I am not a prude; this video referred to taking a gun, going into a block and using it, pop by pop—and the rest. So this is shocking stuff. The other point I wish to make is that TimWestwoodTV is still on YouTube. There are 32 examples where breaches of the law have been found, with glorifications of violence and misogyny and shocking lyrics about gun and drug use. Some 100,000 people watch each of these videos. He is an absolute disgrace, but so is YouTube for even hosting him.
We are tackling this through our social media hub and through the serious violence taskforce. These issues are very difficult and they need to be debated, not only by us in this place, but by the wider communities. As a mum, I know that one wants to protect one’s child and one would hope they are not accessing and seeing material such as that. We have to tread carefully around this, because one does not want, for a moment, to step over into the boundaries of musical freedom. However, we have to be a little less forgiving of those who present these very violent images on TV and then shrug their shoulders when we think it is having an impact on how our children view each other and their friends, and how they view situations in their day-to-day lives.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I recognise the debate that people want to have. With the greatest respect to all my colleagues across the House, I do not think this is really about whether we are prudes. Whatever material our young people are seeing, and whether they are seeing violence online or on our streets, the biggest difference is made by their having people in their lives who can be a consistent voice for making positive choices. I understand that there is an obsession with what is on YouTube, but will the Minister say a bit about how she wants to support those youth mentors and social workers that we know we need to be able to crack this problem? That is what this debate is really about today.
It is as though the hon. Lady had my speech in front of her, because I am just about to move on to the further work that we have announced in recent months. Of course, having positive role models is key, particularly for young people with the biggest set of vulnerabilities, who perhaps do not have someone at home on whom they can rely. That may be because their home lives are difficult and chaotic, for reasons that we have heard about earlier in the debate. There is already a programme of work: the Home Office supports charities such as Safer London and the St Giles Trust to do innovative work to try to reach and then keep hold of the young people who most need their help.
I am not going to, I am afraid, because I must make progress.
It has been a great pleasure for me, as part of my role, to meet youth workers and discover what they think will most help their young people. We in the Government are then in a position to help them in their work.
Secondly, the Home Secretary announced a new £200 million youth endowment fund, which will be delivered over 10 years and will support interventions with children and young people who are at risk of involvement in crime and violence. It will focus on those who are most at risk, such as those who display signs of truancy, aggression and involvement in antisocial behaviour. It will fund interventions to steer children and young people away from becoming serious offenders. Because we are delivering this £200 million over 10 years, it will provide longer-term certainty to those organisations that are helped through the fund, so that they can develop their programmes.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary announced the independent review of drug misuse, which will ensure that law-enforcement agencies are targeting and preventing the drug-related causes of violent crime effectively. Drugs have been identified as a major driver of serious violence. The review will consider recreational drug use, as well as use by the smaller number of users who cause the most harm to themselves and their communities.
Let me be clear: tackling serious violence is a top priority for the Government. The approach set out in the serious violence strategy, with a greater emphasis on early intervention, will address violent crime and help young people to develop the skills and resilience to live happy and productive lives away from violence. But we cannot deliver that alone, which is why we are supporting a multi-agency public-health approach to tackling the issue and investing heavily in tackling the root causes of the problem and consulting on further measures to underpin the public-health approach, to ensure that everyone is working collectively to stop this violence.
I am very glad indeed to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity, but there are some in the wider community who believe that in many important ways the Government are only paying lip service to a public health approach to violent crime.
Like other Members, I have had the sad duty of visiting the families of young men who have died as a result of violent crime. I say young men because they are nearly always men—and in London at least they are all too often black and minority ethnic men. Visiting the families of these deceased young men brings it home to you that the deceased were people—someone’s child. Not just a statistic or a newspaper clipping but young people who were loved and often carried the hopes and dreams of their parents, wider family and even church community. Violent crime creates fear generally, but we should always remember that it is also a personal tragedy for families and communities. Tonight, too many mothers will be going to bed worrying about that call from the public services that will tell them that their son will not be coming home alive.
The topic of the debate is youth involvement in violent crime, but we should remember that older people commit violent crime, too. Violent crime committed against and perpetrated by young people is hugely emotive, and the argument about catching them young and diverting them from crime is well understood, but as I have said, young people are not the sole perpetrators of violent crime; far from it. Youth violence is often associated with drug gangs, which are often run by very adult Mr Bigs—organised criminals who try to keep their hands clean. The Minister talked about county lines; as we know, violence—sometimes extreme violence—is used to claim and enforce operations and territory, drug debts and so on. The organisers and ultimate beneficiaries of the county line phenomenon are rarely young people.
It is important to set out the real nature of the problem, because the Government—although not necessarily this Minister—sometimes seem in denial on matters relating to policing and crime. These are the facts: in the latest report from the Office for National Statistics on crime in the year ending in June, there were more than 39,300 incidents of police recorded crime using knives or other sharp instruments, compared with more than 30,600 as of March 2011. In reality, violent crime and knife crime are rising under this Government. As was said earlier, we can call it a spike if we like, but it can only really be described as a spike if we see the level of violent crime start to come down.
The same ONS document says:
“As offences involving the use of weapons are relatively low in volume, the Crime Survey for England and Wales…is not able to provide reliable trends for such incidents. In this case, police recorded crime is a useful source for measuring these offences, although not all offences will come to the attention of the police.”
The ONS goes on to say that we now have the:
“Highest number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments since 2011”.
So, the reality is that knife crime has risen while this Government have been in office, but what has their policy response been?
We have to accept that one of the most vital elements in the fight against crime must be the role and strength of our police force. We know that 50,000 workers have been lost from the police service, 21,000 of whom were police officers. Up until recent times, the Government have been demanding that they do “more with less” and they are now at crisis point. Those are not my words; they are not some tribal assertion. They are the words of Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas from the College of Policing writing in The Daily Telegraph at the end of October. He is simply highlighting what all of the police leadership has said and the clear verdict of the National Audit Office, the Home Affairs Committee, the inspectorate and many others besides.
Let us consider for a moment the real effect of slashing the numbers of what are known sometimes a little disparagingly as back-office staff. They do vital work, and when their numbers have been slashed, all of their work falls on the police officers themselves. I invite the Minister to imagine how she would feel if her support staff was halved or reduced to a 10th. Well, police, just like the Minister, are dealing with very serious matters—matters of life and death—and we expect them to manage with cuts in the number of staff who support them.
According to the Home Office’s own data, the number of full-time frontline police officers has fallen from 123,000 in 2010 to 106,000 in 2017. All of this has undermined police officers’ effectiveness—that is being said not just by Labour Members but by police officers themselves—in preventing and detecting crime and in apprehending criminals when crime does occur. It is also increasingly the case that police officers do not have the time to spend on protective engagement with the public, but that protective engagement with communities is particularly important in relation to youth crime.
Fewer police officers do not inevitably lead to more crime. Some criminals, opportunistically or otherwise, may be encouraged by the lack of police visibility, and there has certainly been a sharp decline in arrest rates. But although fewer police do not lead directly to rising crime, including violent crime, the police tend to become overstretched, which means that they cannot cope with current levels of crime, let alone rising crime. I am arguing not that fewer police officers in themselves lead to more crime, but that we have to look elsewhere for the causes of crime.
I have heard the Minister talk about the Government’s commissions, strategies, and legislation, and I am grateful that she is not talking about just arresting our way out of rising violent crime. Police officers tell me exactly the opposite; that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. I am told by officers of one instance in which an entire drug gang, which had been dominating the area, were sent away for lengthy sentences. They had used frequent and extreme violence to enforce their rule and protect their territory. There was some jubilation in the local police station when the gang members were sent away, but the consequence was a huge upsurge in violence as other gangs moved in. We must tackle the causes of violent crime. Although I have heard what the Minister has had to say, as I said right at the beginning, the Government as a whole run the risk of being seen to pay lip service to a public health approach.
Let us reflect on a genuine public health approach to violent crime. This is the work done in Scotland around knife crime—I am sure that our Scottish colleagues will have more to say on this. Between April 2006 and April 2011, 40 children and teenagers were killed in homicides involving a knife in Scotland, but between 2011 and 2016, that figure fell to just eight. The decline was the steepest in Glasgow, which once had one of the highest murder rates in western Europe. Between 2006 and 2011, 15 children and teenagers were killed with knives in Glasgow, but between April 2011 and April 2016, not a single child was killed with a knife in Glasgow.
What was the content of the public health approach to knife crime in Glasgow? The police did play a central role. Legislation was improved and toughened, but the authorities also worked in a multi-agency fashion, working very closely with the NHS, schools and social workers. They also had some very innovative projects. In one, the violence reduction unit identified those people most likely to offend and asked them to voluntarily attend the sheriff’s court. They did not have to come, but they were encouraged to do so by community police, teachers and social workers. The police had mapped all the gangs in the area, so that when the young men got there, they saw their own pictures up in court. The session started off with a warning: “We know who you are, and if you carry on with this lifestyle we’re going to come down on you really hard. We’re going to arrest you and we’ll arrest the rest of the gang. You will be going to prison if this carries on.” But as the intervention in the court went on, the police took a more holistic approach.
The police spoke to the young men about the injuries they see as a result of violence, and had a mother talk about losing her son. That really hit home. There was help with housing, relocation, employment and training, and the young men were given a number to call if they wanted to take the offer up. Many of them did so and were put into the programme, and are no longer in the gang lifestyle. That is just one project, which was carried out in Glasgow.
I have heard what the Minister has said about this pot of money and that pot of money, but in order to replicate that sort of approach and those sorts of innovative projects, much more resource needs to be put into the public sector across the board, notably into the NHS, local authorities, schools and social workers.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments about Glasgow. As a local councillor in Glasgow at the time, I saw the difference made by the community initiative to reduce violence. I sat in on one of the court call-ins, which was as moving as she said it was. However, does she agree that the success of the Glasgow programme has been its consistency—that it has been funded for the long-term? That is the kind of investment needed to make it a success.
I thank the hon. Lady for her important intervention; I expected Scottish colleagues to amplify my remarks. She is exactly right. It is not about a commission or a pot of money. It is about a sustained investment, year on year, not just into policing, but into the public sector services that the police need to work alongside to make the public health approach work.
We have heard about the Government’s commission, working parties and policy documents, but the reality is that police numbers have gone down. The idea that we heard earlier this afternoon, that the Government are going to make good some of the drops in police funding by increasing taxes—the precept is a regressive tax paid by householders—is yet another austerity measure, with ordinary people in some of our poorest communities paying for the Government’s failure on policing.
There are other serious and concerning changes to policing; I have called it the Americanisation of our policing. This should be resisted by all sensible people. Of all the advanced, industrialised countries, the American system of policing is the last one we should emulate. The Government have encouraged the increased use of non-evidence-based stop and search, as well as knocking suspected muggers—I stress that these are suspects—off their mopeds with police cars. There is also talk about the use of routine armed patrols in certain parts of London, which alarms a number of us.
None of this is treating violent crime as a public health matter. It is actually an attempt to cover for the shortfall in our policing with the increased Americanisation of our police. This runs contrary to our tradition of policing by consent and to the fact that, in the end, the police can only bear down on violent crime with the co-operation of communities. I ask Ministers to think again about the idea that knocking people off mopeds in police cars and having routine armed patrols in certain areas of London—we know which areas they will be—will increase community co-operation.
A holistic public health approach would mean police forces such as the Metropolitan police working closely with schools, social workers, the NHS, youth services and housing services consistently over a period of time. The Minister talks about individual projects, but all this provision is being cut because of austerity. Far from having the capacity to innovate, the public sector is under pressure just to maintain the services it already provides.
Is the shadow Home Secretary aware of the work being done in Scotland by the violence reduction unit, with mentors going into schools for violence prevention sessions? That is raising the skills and confidence of school pupils in challenging threatening and abusive behaviour.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Similar projects are happening in some parts of London, but we are not doing it in the consistent way that the violence reduction unit in Scotland is doing it.
Let me say a little more about the underlying causes of crime. The recent report by the Social Mobility Commission, an advisory non-departmental public body to the Department for Education, highlights how poor the outlook is generally for young people. It is something of an indictment of this Government, conscious of what was said when the current Prime Minister took up office, that they have not tackled burning injustices for young people—they have created more injustices and exacerbated them. Under this Government, every aspect of young people’s lives, and every underlying cause of crime, has got worse. Sure Start has been savaged, the schools budget has been cut in real terms and per pupil, and school exclusions have risen. There is a very real connection between high levels of school exclusion and children ending up in pupil referral units, too many of which, sadly, despite the best efforts of people who work in them, are academies for crime. Housing has deteriorated, access to universities has worsened, the education maintenance allowance has been cut, fees have risen, and zero-hours contracts have increased—and those are often aimed at young people. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked after the Budget of 2011, “What have the Tories got against young people?”
All of this has consequences. The correlation between sharply lower living standards, worsening prospects, increased hopelessness and rising crime is well established. It is so well established as to have a causal element. The House should not just take my word for it. Metropolitan Police assistant chief commissioner Patricia Gallan, who spearheads Scotland Yard’s specialist crime operations in the fight against gun crime, homicides and high-harm and high-profile crimes, said:
“If we don’t invest at the beginning” of children’s lives
“we’ll have to invest…in terms of criminal justice and in the prison system.”
My right hon. Friend’s point about investment is absolutely key. If we invest in the early stages—I accept that this is not just a case of money, but ultimately money is an issue—we will save money for the public sector in the future. She talked about pupil referral units. It costs over £30,000 to put a young person through a PRU; if they are in mainstream education, it costs £5,000 to £6,000. If we invest to prevent them from getting wrapped up in the violence that leads to their being in the PRU, we will save money at the end of the day—although we should not be putting a price on the heads of our young people.
I thank my hon. Friend for his important intervention.
Nick Alston, the former Conservative policing and crime commissioner for Essex, has said that austerity has had a negative impact on crime. The reality is that too many of this Government’s policies, particularly austerity, have exacerbated some of the underlying causes of the drift to criminality in our young people.
The issue of drill music has been raised. The Minister will be aware that, for as long as anyone can remember, people have sought to blame the music that young people listen to for their bad behaviour. Much of the drill music and videos are horrifying and appalling, but at the end of the day, the music is a reflection of those young people’s lives and realities. It is not a cause of violent crime.
To clarify, I was not claiming that the music causes serious violence. From a safeguarding perspective, and as mums, surely we want to keep our children safe and protect them. We need to have a debate about what sort of music and videos we, as mothers, want our children to be listening to and watching. At the moment, I do not know where that line is. There are clear cases where violence has been incited. I appreciate that there is a grey area, and there may be terminology that we do not like, but do we, as mums, still want our children to be watching those videos? That is the point I was making.
As a mother, let me gently tell the Minister that what we want our children to view online and what they actually view online are two different things. If she is concerned about safeguarding children, maybe she should spend some time lobbying Education Ministers to make more money available for education, particularly in the areas with the biggest incidence of violent youth crime.
We respect the Minister’s genuineness, but we feel that the Government have not done enough to promote a genuine public health approach to violent crime, let alone fund it. They mouth the phrase, and they set up committees and commissions, but in reality, their policies tend more towards an Americanisation of our police and the notion that we can arrest our way out of this crisis than the public health approach, which we have seen successfully implemented in other nations of Britain.
To our police officers—the women and men we rely on to uphold the law—I want to say this: we respect the work you do, and we are grateful for the way you put your lives at risk fighting crime, including violent crime, but we urge you not to be taken in by this Government. They are not defending you; they are cutting your numbers. They are not defending you when they ask you to go on routine armed patrols.
Let us have a serious discussion about tackling violent crime, addressing the causes of crime and what our actual police needs are and how to meet them. Above all, I look forward to an ongoing debate about what a real public health approach to policing would be. I would welcome never again having to meet a mother whose son has died because of violent crime. After all, if we in this House cannot take practical measures to protect young people and communities from violent crime, what are we doing?
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many Members wish to speak, and we have only until 5 o’clock. I hope we can manage without a formal time limit. We will be able to do so if everybody keeps to under nine minutes. That means doing arithmetic in looking at the clock. If I said 10 minutes, it would be easier. You would be amazed at the number of people who cannot add nine to the time on the clock when they start or who are incapable of working out how long they have. I put it to Members that this is a competition to see who is best at counting. If anyone takes more than nine minutes, it will be assumed not that they had an awful lot to say that was terribly important, but that they simply cannot do arithmetic. It is a challenge, and we will start with Mr Jack Brereton.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am sorry to have to say that, unfortunately, youth violence has been on the rise in parts of my constituency over the past year—not on the scale of what has happened in London, of course, but the Meir area of my constituency now has the highest level of antisocial behaviour in the whole of Staffordshire, much of which is caused by gangs of youngsters. Over the past 12 months, there has been a massive rise in these incidents compared with previous years; in some months there has been nearly a quadrupling. These gangs are terrorising our community with totally unacceptable behaviour, and we have even seen a number of shocking knife and firearms incidents in recent months.
These issues are not reserved to the Meir area. In Fenton, we have also of late seen some unacceptable antisocial behaviour and drug-related crimes by a few individuals, whose destructive behaviour I am determined to see stamped out. It cannot be right that a few individuals are allowed to intimidate the majority of law-abiding citizens. The vast majority of our constituents, including young people, are well-minded and full of opportunity, and they make huge contribution to our society. They do not deserve to grow up in an environment of crime that destroys families and life chances. I am pleased that the Minister mentioned domestic violence, since too many young people in Stoke-on-Trent South are being exposed to that at home. A whole catalogue of totally unacceptable behaviours are being committed by a small number of people.
In Meir, the gang is directing violence especially against local shops and businesses in the centre of the community. People are fearful to go and use those facilities, and staff face daily intimidation just in doing their job. I recently went out on patrol with Staffordshire police and spoke to residents and businesses about the issues they are experiencing. The local KFC, for example, had a whole book of incidents over the past month, recording the all too frequent experiences of lawlessness. I think of the young member of staff—only 18 or 19 herself—who has to put up with horrific intimidation in her place of work. No one should have to put up with that when just trying to do their job.
These hardened gang members are actually children—13, 14, 15 or 16, and sometimes even younger. They are not yet of the age of criminal maturity, which means that there has often been little or no response and the totally unacceptable behaviour of these individuals continues. However, it is now well recognised that these issues can be addressed only by taking a multi-agency, multi-pronged approach. This is now very well recognised in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
In the past few weeks, Staffordshire police has made addressing these challenges in Meir one of its highest priorities. This means taking action, and a number of orders have recently been served or are about to be served on some of the young people involved. However, we cannot let the police tackle these issues alone; nor is that desirable. We must ensure that parents take responsibility for their children. Stoke-on-Trent City Council also has a significant role to play in taking action, and I am pleased that it is taking up the baton. In particular, it has powers that can be used against those who repeatedly breach tenancy agreements and those with repeated cases of truancy.
However, the reality is that we need a much broader approach even than that. I am incredibly pleased that the Government have recognised that in calling the debate, and it is important that we take a robust approach. I was pleased that the Minister set out a number of measures that the Government are now taking on the ground. We need to take much more proactive action involving a whole range of public, private and voluntary organisations to ensure an absolute focus on a preventive approach to tackling the root causes.
As has been mentioned, there is also a huge financial incentive to do so for organisations such as the police, local councils and health services. Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money currently goes to addressing the consequences of antisocial behaviour and criminality caused by gangs. A small number of individuals and families are often passed from service to service without issues ever being fully addressed. As these young people get older and turn to more hardened criminality, the costs will only rise further, and more taxpayers’ money will be wasted without any of the beneficial results of actually addressing the problems.
If only a proportion of that investment was redirected into more preventive work to stop young people being drawn into gangs, just think what could be saved in the long run and how the lives of these young people could be transformed. Many say that there is a real lack of facilities and distractions for young people, especially in the Meir community. I tend to agree, and that is why I have recently been working with Ormiston Meridian Academy to secure a new 3G football pitch. It is essential that we secure the funding we need to deliver that, and I was pleased to meet the Football Foundation last week to discuss the significant benefits of such a facility, which will help to ensure that there are activities in our community. I also launched a petition with the principal, Gareth Jones, to demonstrate to the Football Foundation the community support for the project.
Having a 3G pitch in Meir would help not only to reduce the draw of gangs but to address the significant lack of such facilities in Stoke-on-Trent South. I was pleased recently to work closely with St Thomas More Catholic Academy to secure a similar facility in the Longton area, which again helps to meet the massive demand for sporting facilities, especially 3G pitches. I hope that in future we will also have such a facility at Trentham High at the other end of my constituency.
Improving sports facilities demonstrates the massive impact that improving fitness and encouraging healthier lifestyles can have on reducing antisocial behaviour and crime more broadly. The role that sport—not just football—can have is dramatic, as it gives young people a focus, provides discipline and provokes aspirations. It also helps bring together differing cross-sections of the community, and in the most disadvantaged parts of my constituency such as Meir, it helps young people to transform their lives and achieve their full potential.
Our country cannot afford to lose young people on a path towards a life of criminality. We need our future generation, which includes every young person, to be equipped with the ability and skills needed to contribute to our industries, economy and society in Stoke-on-Trent. As we near full levels of employment, ensuring that our future generations fill important roles and jobs will be essential if we are to continue to build on the economic successes we have seen thanks to the work of local businesses and Conservative policies in government.
If we are to overcome the productivity challenges we face, further accelerate growth and build prosperity for every young person in the country, communities such as Meir will play a vital part. If we allow young people to succumb to gangs, criminality and aggression in the way we are seeing, we will have failed those young people. It can never be right for a young person in our country to feel that their community is not for them, or to be so blinded by their upbringing that they are unable to see a pathway that works.
This issue goes to the heart of why I am a Conservative: in a modern, global Britain, every child and young person must have equality of opportunity to achieve their full potential. We must continue to focus on that, working with our communities to overcome challenges. Of course we must use the full range of enforcement measures to show that there are consequences for those who behave in the way we are discussing, but we must also do much more to solve and address the root causes behind why young people are attracted to gangs in the first place.
It is a pleasure to follow Jack Brereton and to take part in this debate. A number of hon. Members have been pressing for a debate on this subject for some time, particularly Vicky Foxcroft. I pay tribute to her and her fellow commissioners on the Youth Violence Commission, including my hon. Friend Chris Stephens, as well as other hon. Members present today who have a long track record of campaigning on this issue—I am not surprised to see a couple of former colleagues from the Home Affairs Committee.
The Committee, on which I still sit, recently commenced an inquiry into serious violence, and we started by taking evidence from parents who had lost their children to youth violence. One said to us:
“As a mum, when you have a child the child then becomes your world. When they are taken away from you in this senseless manner, your whole world just rips apart”.
As the shadow Home Secretary powerfully pointed out, such testimonies bring home the disastrous and tragic impact of this type of crime better than any statistics.
The Scottish National party supports the call for a public health approach to be front and centre of efforts to tackle youth violence. Such an approach seeks to improve the health and safety of all individuals by addressing underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood of people becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. Only by tackling the causes of violence and not just its symptoms, and by using a whole systems approach, can we break the cycle of violence and reduce its impact on individuals, their families and communities.
A public health approach involves collecting evidence on the causes of violence, using that evidence to design interventions, and then testing, improving and upskilling them. By doing that we will achieve so much more than if we simply respond after the event through the justice system. We know it can work, because, as we have heard, it has delivered significant progress in Scotland. It was introduced there because the evidence showed it working elsewhere—in the USA, and in Chicago in particular.
None of that is to say that we still do not have a long, long way to go, but it is hard to overstate just how difficult a starting point Scotland had when it set off on this approach. As recently as 2005, one UN report declared Scotland the most violent country in the developed world, while Worth Health Organisation statistics suggested that Glasgow was the murder capital of Europe—thankfully no more. The shadow Home Secretary mentioned some of the significant progress that has been made: violent crime in Scotland fell by almost half between 2006-07 and 2016-17; the homicide rate halved between 2008 and 2018; offending by young people has halved since 2008; there was a fall of almost 78% in the number of under-18-year-olds being prosecuted in court since 2006-7; the number of children referred to the children’s hearings system on offence grounds fell by 83%; and hospital admissions in Glasgow due to assault with sharp objects are down 62%. By any measure, that is pretty remarkable progress.
A good number of Members, in previous debates as well as in this one, have highlighted the work of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow. I too want to pay tribute to if for the transformational work it has undertaken. I would also like to pay tribute to other organisations, such as Medics against Violence, and those implementing programmes such as “No Knives, Better Lives” and the mentors in violence prevention scheme. Building on the progress that had been made, the Scottish Government’s 2008 “Preventing Offending by Young People: Framework for Action” document reflected a significant policy shift towards prevention and early intervention, and support to manage risk and build community confidence. That has been developed further in the most recent youth justice strategy for 2015 to 2020, “Preventing Offending: Getting it right for children and young people”. That strategy seeks to ensure that all agencies that come into contact with children and young people who offend work together, putting a whole systems approach into practice. It seeks to establish a secure care national adviser post to carry out an independent review of secure care. It will also fund the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice at the University of Strathclyde to develop, support and understand youth justice practice, policy and research in Scotland.
In practical terms, those combined strategies deliver on the ground, with early and effective intervention; opportunities to divert from prosecution; court support; community alternatives to secure care and custody; and improvements to reintegration back into the community. They are about improving life chances with a focus on school inclusion, strengthening relationships and engagement, mentoring, building life skills, and improving health and wellbeing. There is a huge amount of work still to be done, as I have said, including on employability, especially for those who have ended up in the criminal justice system, but progress is being made.
It is a testament to the impact of this approach on Glasgow that there are four Glasgow MPs here in the Chamber to support my hon. Friend’s speech. He is right to mention some of the strategies in place at a national and Government level, but will he join me in paying tribute to Urban Fox in Lilybank, one of the organisations in my constituency? Michael McCourt, Debbie and the team do an excellent job, delivering diversionary activities to ensure that young people make positive choices to get into a slightly better pattern of life.
I very much welcome that intervention. This is probably a good moment to pay tribute not just to the organisation my hon. Friend mentions, but to organisations across Scotland and the United Kingdom that do such good work on the ground to try to divert people away from violence.
I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend David Linden said. We can all think of similar initiatives in our own constituencies. The Children’s Wood in Glasgow North primarily supports teenagers who start to engage in antisocial behaviour. Instead of just calling the police to get them taken away, local volunteers went out and worked with them. Now those same teenagers, instead of being involved in antisocial behaviour, are active parts of that community. That preventive strategy is seen at all levels.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which highlights another very useful and innovative community response.
Both the Minister and Norman Lamb mentioned the impact of adverse childhood experiences—ACEs. More recently, and significantly, this has been an increasing focus of Scottish Government policy. There is increasingly convincing evidence about how certain adverse childhood experiences can result in long-term effects on learning, health and behaviour. Remarkable research in Wales found that people who reported experiencing four or more ACEs are 15 times more likely to have committed violence, 14 times more likely to have been victim of violence in the past 12 months, and 20 times more likely to have been in prison at some point in their life. Many other studies show similar links, so working to prevent ACEs at all and to build resilience for those who have already experienced them now underpins policies in all areas. An ACEs hub, co-ordinated by NHS Health Scotland, is progressing national action, and the implications for justice policy are now reflected in the Government’s “Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities” for 2017 to 2020.
While detailed policies cannot simply be transplanted from one community to the next, and each has to be tailored to local need, there is no doubt that the principles behind a public health approach to violent crime, and particularly violent youth crime, are absolutely solid and evidence-based. I welcome, for example, what Mayor Sadiq Khan has done in establishing a violence reduction unit in London.
Similarly, the UK Government’s serious violence strategy includes some welcome steps, including the establishment of the new national county lines co-ordination centre, which the Minister mentioned, and a move towards a public health approach, but there are those who have expressed concern about it. Critics have expressed the belief that it is still overly dominated—certainly, as regards youth justice—by a criminal law enforcement response, with insufficient emphasis on some drivers of serious violence, such as poverty, and insufficient recognition of the impact of trauma on children caught up in serious violence. That is what some critics are concerned about. The Minister is a former colleague from the Home Affairs Committee, and I know that she is absolutely committed to this issue, so I hope that she can bring the Government with her in being able to respond to these questions and criticisms in the best way possible by investing in putting public health front and centre of their ambitions to tackle youth crime.
The Minister also mentioned the Offensive Weapons Bill, which was a welcome, if small step, as I said when we debated it. She mentioned a consultation on a statutory duty, which seems fine to me. We will monitor that with interest. However, I think we all absolutely agree that we cannot legislate our way out of these issues any more than we can arrest our way out of them. These challenges require evidence-based strategy and policies, and, as hon. Members have said repeatedly already, they require urgent and significant investment in them. Ultimately, everyone benefits if Government genuinely and urgently commit to that approach. We will support any and all initiatives that reflect that approach.
It is a pleasure to follow Stuart C. McDonald, although I was rather hoping to follow Chuka Umunna—not just because he has an easier constituency to pronounce, but because I will be referring to parts of my life when I worked in his constituency. The Minister mentioned that many Members want to speak about their constituency, but I want to speak primarily about a time in my life when this issue was a real cause and passion, and not to use my voice in this place to carry that on would seem a complete waste.
My time was spent working in a youth organisation in Brixton. It was formed after the Brixton riots of the ’80s, and we had two sites—one was on the Moorlands estate and the other was further down Coldharbour Lane towards Camberwell Green. I spent my time there because originally, I had worked as a barrister and found myself dealing with a lot of young offenders on the criminal side of things, when it was frankly just too late. By that time, it was hard to change their path, even if they got an order that would allow them to do so, rather than going into custody. I left the Bar and then went into finance, where I was surrounded by people whose life was great. I thought to myself, “I need to put something back and reach out to see where I can help” so that I could stop young people getting into the situation in which I had met them in my previous career.
That is what took me to that organisation as a trustee, fundraiser, staff manager and volunteer, and my goodness, we did some amazing things together. We funded teachers to provide after-school education, particularly for young children who were excluded or were just skipping school. We made it more fun, so that they would actually turn up. We also had a whole range of sports activities, which included horse-riding in inner-city London. We had a huge amount of environmental projects. Our football teams were absolutely fantastic. We basically got kids out of a life where it was all about gang culture and we made it interesting, exciting and gave them something different. To actually see their choices and the paths that they went on, and the success that many of them achieved, despite the odds, was absolutely incredible. I then moved on and spent five years as a governor in a failing school, when I moved to another part of London. Again, it was interesting to see the educational impact and, again, how a situation could be transformed through great leadership, great funding and everyone working together. That is what brought me here.
This morning, I tried to track down that organisation, and while doing so, I ended up speaking to a remarkable person, who I think is just outside the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Denmark Hill. It was interesting chatting to that community and family worker about how things are now compared with how they were when I was there in the five years from 1997 to 2002. It confirmed to me that things have got worse, which is so depressing. She feels that young children are more at risk than they were when I was there, and talked about the impact of smartphones and the fact that people can get their gang together quickly—it is so fast and people do not get the chance to think, “What am I doing?” and turn around. She specifically mentioned the music lyrics, which she believes incite young people to commit violence. I heard what Stella Creasy said, but when I speak to people such as that lady, who is on the frontline—she has kids and sees it—they tell me that they absolutely believe that it causes others to follow and glamorises that culture. That is why I say what I say. I am not a big fan of censorship, but when things get this serious, we have to look at it, and do something about it and the people who do it.
I completely and utterly agree with the hon. Gentleman. There have been incidents in my constituency. Drill music went up online from one gang calling out another gang bragging about a murder in the constituency. The music should have been taken down fast but my police services did not have the resources they needed to do it, and we did not have the access we needed.
We talked a bit about this earlier. I gave an example of when the problem was not police resources—in my example, the police had the power but allowed videos to be published. We heard about police funding earlier. Hopefully, if that was the problem, things might get a little better.
Companies such as YouTube should be forced to take those videos down. I mentioned Tim Westwood. A number of gangs have appeared on his YouTube channel and people have lost their lives. The evidence seems clear to me and I find him to be incredibly irresponsible in how he promotes this music.
The lady I spoke to was interesting. Her youngest is 22 and has gone on to do great things. She said that things have got so bad now that, if he was of primary school age, she would have moved out of London, which makes it incredibly stark. She also made the point that teachers no longer have the respect of pupils. We have spoken before in the House about teachers spending far too much time on too many other matters, which has an impact on their ability to be seen as leaders in the classroom. Youngsters know that they can get away with it. She also gave me a shocking example of young boys who have located here from Nigeria being sent back to keep them safe. It is incredibly frustrating that I spent five years in that area and now find that things are not getting better, but are in fact getting worse, which is why more must be done.
I pay tribute to Vicky Foxcroft. I cannot remember a week in Parliament when I have not heard her say that we need to be talking about this, and we finally are. I had expected to see her name on the Order Paper, but this is a Government debate. I congratulate her.
The question is what to do. I welcome the Government’s £200 million youth endowment fund and note that bidders are being sought. The fund is to be independent, but does that mean independent of profit or independent of the Government? Perhaps it is both.
Right. Therefore it could be profit-based.
Ultimately, as the title of the debate suggests, as experience tells me, and as the shadow Home Secretary said, we cannot arrest our way through this process. It is all about tackling the early signs and making interventions to ensure that we never reach the point at which that young person is arrested, or where there is a victim. I am thinking not only of the victim of a crime, but of the perpetrator, their families, and the hospitals and trauma services—there are so many victims of that one fleeting moment when someone uses a knife. I support the money, but it is critical that it is well spent. We have seen the examples from Glasgow, which is a model we need to follow or at least look at closely because the results have been extraordinary.
Alongside that, I want to press the Minister again because knife crime has got so out of control. The Offensive Weapons Bill is currently going through this House, and I welcome that, but on Report, as the Minister will remember, I supported a couple of amendments tabled by Opposition Members. One was about the ability to get hold of knives. If people shoplift and knives are not in locked cupboards, they have their weapon. The Minister told me that there was a code of practice to which many retailers were signing up, but what worries me is the number of irresponsible retailers who will not do so, and who might even see knives being taken and do nothing about it. I was talking to someone from the Ministry of Justice who had walked past a place—again, I think it was in Streatham—and saw a meat cleaver hanging from a rope.
Let me say to the Minister that if we are not seeing a reduction in this type of crime in six months’ time, I think it would be responsible of our party to look at that amendment again. As I said then, if I decide to kill myself by walking into a shop to buy a packet of cigarettes, I will find that the packets are in a locked cabinet. If I decide to walk into a shop and shoplift a knife to kill someone else, the knife will not be in a locked cabinet, which makes no sense to me at all. Public space protection orders, which the Minister has considered before, might work to that end as well.
The other amendment that I thought had a lot of worth was tabled by Tulip Siddiq. It would make moped use in knife or acid crime an aggravating factor. If there is no reduction in that type of crime, I think that the Government should discuss such a measure.
Let me make one more point. Have I hit nine minutes yet, Madam Deputy Speaker? You will tell me, anyway—or you will just look daggers at me.
I have talked about the constituency of the hon. Member for Streatham, and I will listen with interest to what he has to say about where we are at the moment. The sad reality is, however, that I have covered 200 square miles, largely rural, where I would not necessarily have expected to be dealing with this issue. After I spoke in the Offensive Weapons Bill debate, a constituent reached out to me because her son—she told me, in desperation—had been taking knives, and stealing them as well. She had been told by another parent that their child had been threatened with a knife by her son. He then went missing with the knife. She contacted the police, who said that she would have to wait until the next day to report him as a missing person, and did not take the knife aspect at all seriously or do anything about it.
I take the point about police resourcing, and it is great news that we have additional police resources, but I also think it is incredibly important for all of us, as Members of Parliament, to press our police to ensure that they are doing their job and taking this issue very seriously indeed. While we cannot arrest ourselves out of the situation, when a young person is out there with a knife, the police need to take that seriously and deal with it. It is not a missing person; it is another crime statistic about to happen, and another person about to become a victim.
I will end my speech with that point. I look forward to hearing other contributions.
Sadly, youth violence, and knife crime in particular, has affected almost every community in the country in recent years, and it is a problem that has reached epidemic levels. Just last month in Coventry, a 16-year-old boy was tragically stabbed to death in the Wood End area of my constituency. That senseless act cost an innocent young man his life, ruined the lives of his family and friends, and left an entire city in a state of shock. It was yet another tragic example of how knife crime destroys lives and devastates communities.
That shocking event is just the latest in a rising toll of knife crime in the city. Over the last five years the number of knife crime incidents has almost doubled, from 164 in 2012-13 to 307 in 2017-18. There were more than 162 knife crimes in the first six months of 2018-19, with three fatalities in this year alone. The levels of knife crime in my area, and in other areas across the country, are rising, at a time when police budgets have been cut to the bone and the number of frontline police officers has fallen to the lowest level in 30 years. The West Midlands police force alone has lost more than 2,000 officers in the last eight years, and £175 million from its budget over the same period. There can be little doubt about the correlation between falling police numbers and rising crime levels. It is time that the Government finally acknowledged this link and acted to increase the number of officers on our streets to help protect our communities.
All forces need additional officers, and the West Midlands is no different; our PCC has asked the Government for an extra £42.2 million to cover inflation and the funding for 500 additional officers to help tackle violent crime more proactively. It is shameful that the Government failed to meet that request in full.
However, I accept that this problem has not been created by cuts to police budgets alone, nor is it a problem that can be resolved by simply putting extra officers on the streets. If we really want to address this problem permanently, we need to understand the social conditions that lie at the root of youth violence and recognise the underlying causes that have fuelled the recent surge in knife crime. In doing so it is impossible to ignore the cumulative impact of eight years of savage Government cuts to local services, which have exacerbated poverty and inequality, hampered our ability to tackle youth violence at source and pushed communities to a tipping point.
It is certainly no coincidence that areas of high deprivation have similarly high rates of knife crime. In Coventry we have seen cuts to education provision, children and youth services, Sure Start, the police and mental health facilities, all of which have had a direct impact on the most vulnerable in society. Cuts to such vital services not only make it difficult to identify young people who are most at risk of early offending due to their environments, but make it more difficult to address those environments through early intervention. That is why we need a long-term, properly funded, integrated public health approach to youth violence, an approach that focuses on the drivers of youth violence rather than the aftermath and that prioritises the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable young people over criminalisation.
We must ensure that carrying knives never becomes normal behaviour and seek to change the culture among many young people. To do this, we need to place a greater emphasis on community policing that builds trust, education programmes that equip young people to be resilient, and early intervention that targets those most at risk of becoming involved in violence, as well as targeting significant resources on prevention activities on a multi-agency basis. As a result, youth violence would no longer simply be within the purview of the criminal justice system; instead, this would involve the police, schools, parents, health professionals, youth workers and council services working alongside community groups, young people, faith groups and the voluntary sector.
There are already practical examples of this holistic approach taking place in Coventry with the roll-out of youth workers in our local A&E department. Those youth workers intervene at “teachable moments” and speak with young people who attend hospital with a knife wound, as victims often become perpetrators of violent crime—although I think we can all agree that it would be preferable to prevent the violent incident in the first place, rather than act in the aftermath.
There is also investment in mentoring projects and youth work, including through the Positive Youth Foundation in Coventry, to divert young people away from violence. Similarly, there is investment in education programmes that warn young people of the dangers of carrying a knife. We have also seen the introduction of violence prevention mentors—young people who mentor other young people in their schools away from violence.
Such local initiatives really do make a difference to both individuals and communities touched by violence, but they do not in any way negate the need for the Government to adopt a public health approach on a national scale. We need the Government to implement and properly fund a national programme, with measurable outcomes, that targets resources at communities to tackle the problem of youth violence at source while protecting future generations from it. I hope this is something the Government will look at very seriously.
I want briefly to talk about the consensus that I hear in the debate, as well as about some of the areas in which there is a divergence of views. I also want to make one or two constructive remarks. Everyone agrees that this is a serious and pressing issue. We cannot just look at the figures, although they are pretty appalling, with homicides and knife deaths at levels not seen for more than a decade. Ms Abbott talked about how meeting the mothers involved really brings it home to you. I have had two fatal stabbings in my constituency in the past two years, and meeting the mothers of the two young men involved was most distressing. I could not leave those meetings without committing myself to take action, and I am sure that everyone in the House has had a similar experience.
There is consensus on the urgency involved, and there is consensus that the old approach of arresting everyone and putting them in prison is not going to work. We have to have a holistic public health approach, and I think that everyone has signed up to that. I refer people to the work of the World Health Organisation on the need for violence prevention and the need to treat this upsurge in violent crime as an epidemic linked to aspects of disease. A public health approach is absolutely right. I also think we can agree on the good work that is being done in communities.
I absolutely admire the work that has been done in Glasgow, but this is not the only cause of crime in London. If we continue to focus only on the public health approach, we are likely to miss the way in which children are being groomed by gang members and organised criminals and placed in harm’s way by being used as mules and dealers. We need to understand that, in London, the problem is massive.
I agree with the hon. Lady, who has taken a great leadership role in this debate. However, the title of the debate is “Public health model to reduce youth violence”, which is why I am focusing on that.
A great deal of cross-party work has been done on this, including the work of the Youth Violence Commission, which Vicky Foxcroft chairs. Her ears must be ringing in this debate. Colleagues from all parties are involved in the commission, including the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Braintree (James Cleverly) and my right hon. Friend Norman Lamb. My constituent and friend, Siobhan Benita, a former senior civil servant, has also been contributing her skills and knowledge to this cross-party work. There is consensus that this is the way forward.
So where is the disagreement? First, there is disagreement on the speed of the response. I just do not think that we are doing this quickly enough. This is a crisis. Yes, we know that some of the responses involving the public health model are going to be long-term approaches, but there are short-term measures that could happen sooner. Why are we not doing those things ever more quickly? There is a failure to see this crisis for what it is, and to understand how it is experienced by the families in our constituencies.
The other disagreement involves resources. We can always go on about resources and how well they are used—Huw Merriman made that point—but let us remember the cost of these appalling tragedies. It is estimated that every homicide costs more than £1 million for the investigation, the autopsy, the coroner’s court and so on. That is before we even talk about how much it costs to lock up the perpetrator, if he or she is caught, and before we have calculated the lost economic opportunity—never mind the emotional value to the family. We are talking about a huge waste of money and resources, as well as about the tragedy and the tears. When we look at resources, let us do our sums right. Let us recognise how much money we are wasting by not tackling this properly. I know that this is a debate that the Treasury sometimes has difficulty in hearing, but we have to get it to do its sums properly. It looks at this problem in too narrow a way, and for that reason we are getting the wrong solution. We are not making this the priority that it must be.
This has been a constructive debate, and I want to turn to some of the solutions. I am going to make one or two slightly weird suggestions, but people will see their relevance. Some solutions must be targeted and must focus on the individuals and communities at greatest risk, which can be a sensible approach for getting early responses. However, we should also consider the prevention side of things and deal with the long-term causes, as other hon. Members have said.
One such long-term problem is bereavement, which relates to the adverse childhood experiences issues to which other Members have referred. It will of course be only one of the issues, but we do not properly treat traumatised bereaved children at all in this country. I am not necessarily talking about children who may be traumatised because one of their loved-ones has been murdered; I am talking about children whose parent may have died naturally. We are hopeless as a society at dealing with that. I have been working with the “Life Matters” taskforce, which is not considering the issue from the angle that we are looking at it today, but I want to bring it in because it offers an example of how rubbish we have been at dealing with some of the adverse childhood experience issues.
We do not measure the number of children who have lost their mother or father, because we do not record that information. I have met the Office for National Statistics to talk about that, and the reason is that when a death is registered it is recorded if there is a partner, but not if there are any surviving children. There is no requirement in law, but this is a Home Office responsibility, so I will write to the Minister about that and I am having a second meeting with the ONS. If we measure something, surprisingly enough the officials say, “Oh. That’s a problem.” We can then share the problem out and say, “We’re not giving enough help in schools. We’re not giving enough counselling.” The system can suddenly kick into gear, but it does not do that at the moment because we do not realise that there is this massive problem. Let us start thinking at that level about how we can get attention on to such issues.
Another example—perhaps not so weird and wacky—is the local initiatives that are set up when someone loses a dear one. We have seen lots of charitable initiatives to tackle knife crime. We all know about Redthread, but a Christian youth charity in my constituency called Oxygen has set up an amazing programme—before the Minister reminds me, the Home Office helped to fund it—called “What’s the Point?” whereby the group goes into schools, bringing along people whose loved ones have been the victim of knife murders. There is also a new initiative in my constituency called “Drop a Knife, Save a Life” that was set up by an amazing woman called Sophie Kafeero, whose son, Derick Mulondo was murdered in my constituency 18 months ago. Sophie came to this country from Uganda about three decades ago, and she was a leading community activist on HIV/AIDS in the African population. She is an amazing lady, but she lost her only child in the later years of her life. She is full of grief when you talk to her, but she tells her story and goes into schools to talk to young people.
Interestingly, Sophie has noted in her work in the community that it is the really simple stuff that matters—just like the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle was talking about when describing his time as a youth worker all those years ago—such as organising some football. Sophie tells a story about how a young boy knocked on her door after her son Derick had died and said, “Who’s going to help us play football now?” Derick had arranged football games among the young people in the local community, but he was killed with a knife. If we can find those sorts of initiatives, we can get on top of this problem, but we have to give it the seriousness that it deserves. Such solutions are not rocket science, but they are vital.
I hope that the Minister will not take my final point as me bringing in a little controversy, but police resources are vital, and we are particularly missing the police community support officers. When we had a sergeant, two PCs and three PCSOs in every ward in my constituency, the police knew what they were doing. We had days when wards had no crime reported at all, which has hardly happened since. People felt more confident and safer, and the community felt happier. Trying to measure that may be difficult, but that sort of thing is what I would call a public health model. This is about taking things in a different way and getting to the root of the problem. This is about giving our young people the support and the role models that they need.
I will start with what motivated me to speak in this debate. I was first elected in 2015, and in September of that year I had to deal with losing two young men in my constituency. I saw the impact it had on the whole community. Since then we have lost 10 young people in Lewisham, Deptford. With 130 lost in London and 263 lost across the country this year alone, this clearly is not something we can simply tackle in Lewisham, Deptford alone.
If that many people had died in a football stadium, a music arena or a workplace, we would be having a national inquiry. From my conversations with experts and young people, I quickly realised that anything we do needs to be cross-party—we cannot play politics with young people’s lives—and evidence-led. That is why we established the cross-party commission on the root causes of youth violence. Warwick University joined as our academic partner, and academics from elsewhere, including the Open University, have supported our work. A public health approach was the key recommendation of our interim report.
In talking about a public health approach, people far too often, and particularly politicians and commentators, say the words but do not understand what they mean or where they come from. In 1996, at its 49th annual conference, the World Health Organisation declared violence
“a major and growing public health concern around the world” and in 2002 it advocated tackling violence as a public health problem. The World Health Organisation identified that violence acts and spreads like a disease.
The focus is on dealing with violence just like any other disease. The World Health Organisation’s evidence shows that violence spreads like a disease and, as such, we need to treat the disease and prevent it from spreading. Across the world, from Chicago to Scotland, there are numerous examples of successful public health programmes aimed at tackling violence. I could name loads of them, but I have had to cut down my speech dramatically to stay within the time limit.
Cure Violence, founded in Chicago in 2000 under the name CeaseFire, runs projects all over the world, including in England at Cookham Wood young offender institution. The project at Cookham Wood resulted in a 50% reduction in violent incidents, a 95% reduction in group attacks and a 96% reduction in youths involved in group violence.
Cure Violence maintains that violence is a learned behaviour that can be prevented using disease control methods. The Cure Violence model has five required components, three core components and two implementing components. Put briefly, the model involves, first, detecting potentially violent events and interrupting them to prevent violence through trained, credible messengers; secondly, providing ongoing behaviour change and support to the highest-risk individuals through trained, credible messengers; thirdly, changing community norms that allow, encourage and exacerbate violence in chronically violent neighbourhoods to healthy norms that reject the use of violence; fourthly, continually analysing data to ensure proper implementation and to identify changes in violence patterns and levels; and fifthly, providing training and technical assistance to workers, programme members and implementing agencies.
In Scotland, the violence reduction unit established in 2005 has reduced the number of homicides by 39% and the number of violent crimes by 69%, which is huge. I could talk for hours about the unit’s work, but I will not. I will simply say that I have nothing other than total respect for the unit’s work and for the magnificent people I have met.
Karyn McCluskey and John Carnochan, who set up the unit, are two of the finest, most dedicated people I have ever met. It has never been just a job to them. They drafted the violence reduction unit’s first plan and they would say that they had lots of dedicated people who worked with them, and I know that to be true. What would be the main things they would say to me if they were here? They would say, “It is about relationships.” I interpret that to mean breaking down barriers, pulling people together on a common aim and enthusing people to do something that is going to work. It is also about the importance of individual relationships. They would also say, “Follow the evidence. Don’t do things that don’t work. Do things that work.” That might sometimes mean trying something, realising it is not working and binning it, and then trying something else that will work. They would also say, “ Listen. Listen to what you’re being told and what the evidence shows you. Listen to our young people and recognise they are so, so often so very vulnerable, even if they put a super-hard act on.” One of the most important things they would say is that our approach must be long term. They had a 10-year strategy, but when we speak to them, they say it could and probably should have been 15 or 20 years long.
I am glad to see that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has announced the establishment of a violence reduction unit in London, which will establish a public health approach to reducing violence, learning the lessons from Scotland, but appreciating we may need some different approaches in London. Local authorities need to have the legal duty—this is not just about having a consultation on a legal duty—to underpin a public health approach in tackling violent crime. I hope the Home Office can update us on that soon.
Turning back to what the Government can do, we need to learn lessons from what works. We need to be brave and follow the evidence, which can be difficult when the Government do not store data on crucial sources of information. Can the Minister tell me why the Government do not centrally hold data on the time of knife attacks, especially as recent research has shown that young people are especially vulnerable between 4 pm and 6 pm on school days? Data on the number of knife aggravated murders in each city or local authority is also not held centrally, which makes it far harder to compare the efficacy of different local authority approaches over time. The number of prisoners that were excluded at school is also not regularly recorded. Many victims of knife crime do not report their injuries to the police, so should we not be looking for this information in other areas, such as the NHS? The Government do not cross-reference ambulance service dispatch data for knife injuries and police records for knife attacks. Many people believe there is a link between deprivation and levels of violence, so why do the Government not hold this information? Finally, but extremely importantly, why do we not record the number of young people who applied but failed to meet the threshold for child and adolescent mental health services treatment?
Those are all extremely important areas—and I am sure there are many more—where we should hold data, as a minimum to ensure that the Government can successfully deliver on their public health approach. I have asked numerous questions of the Government and others in order to try to find this information, but, sadly, I know the Government do not hold this data. Why is that? Will the Government commit today to seeking to hold this data?
Why do we invest in programmes that we know do not work? For example, there is no evidence to suggest that programmes in schools that say, “Do not use drugs” or, “Do not carry a knife” have any impact. We should analyse the efficacy of these programmes and if they do not work, we must stop them. We know that programmes investing in social development, home visitation, training in parenting, mentoring programmes and family therapy work. We also know that the earlier the intervention, the more effective it is.
I will skip through what I have on adverse childhood experiences, because I know that other Members have gone through it, but ACEs is an extremely important area of work and we need to do a lot more on it. I encourage all Members of Parliament to do the survey on ACEs and get their scores, as I intend to do in the future. I understand that the Government are due to publish a report on ACEs; when will it be published?
I will skip through my comments on schools, but in previous speeches on education I have said a lot about what happens in schools. It is really important that we look into whether school finishing times are right and whether we should stagger them. Should we think about closing down all pupil referral units? Should we look into expulsion? We could absolutely invest that money in our children’s lives far earlier.
Let me conclude my remarks with an important quote from a Member of the Youth Parliament, Ciya Vyas, who spoke about the importance of tackling knife crime in the recent UK Youth Parliament debate on the subject. She said:
“More young people voted for this issue than any other…If there is a will for change on this issue among young people, there is a political will for change here at Westminster. Whether we see the need for a violence reduction unit and a public health approach, as pioneered so successfully in Scotland and endorsed here by London’s Mayor, or the Home Secretary’s recent proposals to increase levels of stop-and-search, this debate is happening now, and we cannot neglect our duty to bring young people’s voices into it.”
After that debate, and following a ballot of more than 1 million young people throughout the nation, the Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council chose knife crime as the subject of their national campaign. Let us make sure that as politicians we do not let them down.
Order. I know this will be unpopular, but in order that everybody can speak, I am going to have to drop the informal time limit down to six minutes—and no more, please. I am sorry, but I have to leave time for the Front-Bench contributions.
Let me put on record my awe at the work that my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft has been doing on this issue, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). It has been incredibly powerful to watch. In my short contribution I want to read into the record what it is like to be from a community in the grip of this disease, because we know first hand in Walthamstow. I have felt like I have been living a parallel life over the past couple of years: the debates are about either Brexit or knife crime, but both have powerfully divided my local community.
We are a community who know what it means to lose our loved ones. On
There are not just the ones we have lost, but the ones who have—thankfully—lived through this trauma. On
It is fair to say that in the eight years that I have been an MP in Walthamstow we have always had a challenge with gangs in our local community. Professor John Pitts has catalogued that for us in work on what he called reluctant gangsters. Eight years ago, it was about postcodes and the pride that people felt about their local communities—the Beaumont estate, the Boundary Road, the Priory Court, the Drive. Kids wore their membership as a badge of pride to put fear into their rivals. People here have talked about adverse childhood experiences and definitely then that was a factor too, but now we see how it has changed from reluctant gangsters to making profits, as John Pitts points out. It is organised crime that is driving much of this violence. People have mentioned county lines already.
We might have 250 recognised gangs across London. In my local community, we have identified around 230 gang nominals. Indeed, the Mali Boys have come to devastate our local area and to frighten many. These gangs do not advertise their membership now; it is bad for business, because it is driven by drugs. They use their territories not to deter other people, but as marketing grounds—as places where they find their customers. The most valuable resource for them is the phone, so that they can be on-call to deliver the drugs, and, yes, children are sent all around the country to deal, to as far away as Scotland, but also to Essex, to Norfolk and the Thames Valley.
The public health model reflects that, over the past eight years, the same factors are at stake: the childhood chaos, the poverty and the resources that we need to address these problems. For my local community, living in the grip of this disease of youth violence, the same fears remain. There are the parents who tell me that they do not want their kids to get on the buses to go to school because they do not know what will happen to them. There is the shock when they see the police tape and, yes, the social media posts when somebody has spotted something. There is the fear of the gang knives and the guns that we now have on our streets. There are little boys who are dying—they are boys, they are teenagers—and the girls who are caught up in sexual exploitation. There is the domestic violence that is behind much of this, and the frustrations of my local social workers who do an amazing job for Waltham Forest Council, trying to work with these families. There are the people who work through Christmas trying to keep our kids alive.
We cannot pretend that resources do not matter in these circumstances. We cannot pretend that, when finally we get those resources, it does not make a difference. This October, 30 members of the Mali gang were arrested. We have seen in just one area of Walthamstow, in St James’s Street, 15 arrests in one month alone, because we are seeing guns, knives and drugs being taken off our streets. We have had a 24% increase in offensive weapon offences in Walthamstow in the past year alone, so, of course, enforcement and policing make a difference. Anybody who says otherwise simply does not understand what it is like to live within this community. But we know that that is not enough.
Finally, let me pay tribute to all the other organisations that are working with our council: Spark2life, Access Aspiration, Soul Project, Gangs United, Boxing for Life, Camara at Words 4 Weapons, Slenky, and Waltham Forest community hub and Monwara Ali. Our community will not stand by while this happens. Minister, please, give us the resources for the youth services that we need to help our young people. Give us the police that we need to work with them, because this disease is gripping us and it is frightening.
I wholeheartedly agree with the comments of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy. I just want to recount to the House, by way of example, just what has been happening in our borough of Lambeth recently.
A week later, on
Let us be absolutely clear that this is not just an issue of black boys killing other black boys in socially deprived neighbourhoods. It affects all families. Any parent of a teenager in London now worries when they leave their home. Let us also be clear that the demand for illegal drugs from well-off, middle-class people is a major driver of this violence. This is all interconnected. Young people from my area are trafficking drugs around other parts of the country. I say to people who indulge in their cocaine usage and what have you over the weekends: when you snort that line of coke, a whole heap of violence, abuse, exploitation and general criminality has led to that powder going up your nose. You are part of this too. That is why this entire thing needs to be a national mission—an issue that we seek to tackle as a country.
Now, why is it happening? I believe in reciprocity; it is at the heart of my politics. We provide our young people with an environment in which they can thrive, and pursue their hopes, dreams and opportunities. In return, we ask that they abide by the norms, values and rules of the society of which they are a part. The bottom line is that we have broken that social contract with our young people, and unless we address it we are not going to deal with this problem.
We will not be able to reduce the bloodshed unless we go to the root causes, and we have to look at three or four different things. First, as I have said, we dispossess our young people by bringing them up in this environment. In so many parts of my constituency, richness and extreme deprivation sit side by side. In the deprived areas of my community there is a concentration of social problems all sitting in one place. Parents are absolutely struggling and are under intense pressure, often holding down two or three jobs just to make ends meet. I will just quote a young mother from the Tulse Hill estate, who said that
“if you want to support our kids, we need support too because it’s a daily struggle.”
So we need to sort out the environment.
Secondly, we have to talk about respect and the way it plays into this culture of violence. The friendship groups that young people are part of are surrogate families, but they are families without parental authority and without an arbiter of justice. Each boy—it is mostly boys—has to prove his worth. That is not a problem if we are talking about how good they are at sport or what they are wearing, but it is much more serious if we are dealing with disenfranchised young boys without money, hope or self-esteem, who feel disrespected. In areas where legal authority is weak, a reputation for violence is seen as the only effective deterrent against attack. That has to be dealt with. Locally powerful criminals end up providing alternative routes to respect, and boys who are desperate and looking for that respect will gravitate towards them. Of course, more and more girls are also being dragged into this and abused.
Finally—a big thing—we have to give these young people access to opportunities and hope, because as a youth worker said to me:
“If you’ve got no hope then you’ve got nothing. They need something real to aspire to.”
No one has had enough time to give the speeches they want to give, so I will just finish by saying this: this is not rocket science. We have already been through so much of this in the report into the August 2011 riots, so it is nothing new. Everything that everybody is saying can be found in the report of that panel. But the big question for this House and this Government is, when are we going to act? Year in, year out we are here debating the same issues, and we keep seeing blood on our streets. It is a disgrace. It shames this House, it shames our politics and finally we need to do something about it.
The informal limit is now down to five minutes.
At the beginning of November, a 15-year-old child, Jay Hughes, was murdered in Bellingham in my constituency. Less than 72 hours on from that tragic event, a 22-year-old, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, was murdered in Anerley, just a year on from the murder of teenager Michael Jonas, which shocked the community back in 2017. These murders have utterly shaken our community, and constituents have expressed to me their fear for their family’s safety. No parent should have to harbour such concerns. No family should have to lose their child to violent crime. Similarly, no young person should be so bereft of opportunity and aspiration that they feel that violent crime is a path to follow. But this is the situation that we find ourselves in.
We are in the midst of a youth violence crisis. I will turn to the causes, but before that, I want to say how heartened I have been by the community’s response in Lewisham West and Penge. In the face of such tragic circumstances, they have shown strength and determination to bring our communities closer. I mention not least the work of the Bellingham community project, Youth First, the local police, Elfrida and Athelney primary schools in Bellingham, and Stewart Fleming Primary School and the Samos Road community in Anerley.
But as much as the community has worked to rebuild what has been lost, they cannot do this on their own. Tackling youth violence requires work from an array of public services in co-operation with our communities. Sadly, ever since 2010 we have seen some of the most devastating cuts made to our public services, especially the Metropolitan police, which has faced £1 billion of cuts since 2010, with further savings to be found over the next few years. As a result, we have seen the loss of 30% of police staff and 65% of police community support officers. Our police do a fantastic job, but in the wards that I represent, we have, at most, two ward officers and one PCSO per ward. They are fantastic, but they are overstretched. It is inevitable that with reduced police visibility and presence in our neighbourhoods, relationships with communities deteriorate, trust is eroded, and opportunities for crime arise. The Met urgently needs more funding so that it can work to prevent crime rather than just reacting to it. However, youth violence is not just a question of police funding and enforcement. The causes are extremely complex and involve societal problems such as poverty, adverse childhood experiences and lack of opportunity.
Tackling youth violence therefore requires a public health approach, which means addressing the environments that make people vulnerable to the risk of crime. We have talked about the example of Glasgow, where the violence reduction unit teamed up with agencies in the fields of health, education and social work, and the police force became the first in the world to adopt a public health approach. As a result, recorded crime in Scotland is now at a 40-year low. There are lessons to be learned from that, but it will work only if we join up health, education, youth services, housing, the Home Office and the justice system. Yet all those departments have been cut as part of the Government’s austerity agenda.
For example, the Government spend less than 1% of the NHS budget on children’s mental health, with many children waiting many months for treatment and often being turned away for not meeting the threshold. In the case of education, schools in my constituency tell me that they can identify children who are vulnerable from as young as three years old, because they may have older siblings or other family members in gangs. That is the point at which intervention is really needed, but schools can barely afford to go on as they are, so intervening to carry out that sort of work becomes increasingly difficult. Similarly, we have seen Sure Start centres have their budgets cut, and the loss of things like youth clubs and youth projects across the country.
The Minister mentioned St Giles Trust in her opening remarks, and I pay tribute to it for the work that it does. It was running a fantastic county lines pilot project down in Kent for six months, but then the funding from the Home Office dried up. That is the reality of the situation that we are working in. These projects need funding in order to carry on doing their work. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft for the work that she has done on the Youth Violence Commission—she has campaigned on this issue tirelessly—and also to the Mayor of London, who, despite restricted budgets, has launched the youth violence reduction unit. Such agencies desperately need money so that they can carry out this vital work.
We cannot bring back those we have already lost, but we can take action to prevent more from losing their lives. We can help prevent our vulnerable young people from turning to crime, and we can offer them aspiration and a stake in our society. What is needed is the funding and the political will.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft on the work she has done on the Youth Violence Commission and on securing this debate against all the odds. I do not know whether she asked for the debate nine, 10 or 11 times—
Violence is not inevitable—we have to hold on to that. Just as it goes up, so it can come down, if we do the right things, and that is fundamentally what we are here to debate. I had the honour of going to Clarence House yesterday, where Prince Charles was holding an event with Prince Harry. Prince Charles, who takes a great interest in this issue, stood up and said, “Enough is enough. We have to do more to tackle this.” If the royal family are telling us we need to do more, we should pay attention.
We know that we have reached the highest level of knife crime on record and have seen more violent deaths in London than in any year since 2008. This is not a Croydon issue or a London issue; this is a national crisis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford said, last month a poll of 1 million young people found that knife crime was their No. 1 issue. This must start from the very top, and I would like to see the Prime Minister make a speech on violence. That would set an agenda that the rest of us could follow and would be a powerful way to show that she cares.
Last Friday, some of us from the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime went up to Scotland, where we visited a young offenders prison and the violence reduction unit. After leaving the prison, we met a young man called Callum, and for me he epitomises what the public health approach can do. He was born into a family where domestic violence was rife and there was alcoholism. He had a traumatised childhood. He said that he used to spend his time in school looking out of the window, worrying whether his mother was safe at home. He looked at the gangs on the streets and thought that they were a place of safety for him.
Callum ended up getting involved with boys who were much older and in all kinds of criminal activity, which escalated, so he was in and out of prison. He took to drinking and became an alcoholic because he felt such self-loathing and fear. He got himself into a position where one day, he was stabbed seven times outside his own house by some men. He looked up and saw his seven-year-old son at the window, seeing his father being stabbed. He was rushed to hospital, where he met a youth worker who said, “Callum, are you done?” and he said, “Yes, I’m done, but I need help.” That was the point at which interventions began. He had therapy, training and a whole raft of interventions that helped him get a job.
His former partner sadly killed herself earlier this year, and Callum now has sole custody of their boy. If he had not turned himself around, that cycle—the epidemic and disease that we all talk about—would have carried on. As his parents, so him, and so his child. Now his child has a chance of a life. That is what we are talking about today.
I will not go through all the different interventions, because we do not have time, but I want to echo the points made about early intervention and prevention. In the young offenders prison that our APPG went to, a third of the prisoners had been in care as a child, 38% had experience of domestic violence and 75% had suffered a traumatic bereavement—for example, a suicide, drug death or murder. That figure is huge, and we do not talk enough about that misunderstood area. Two thirds of the boys in that prison had suffered four or more bereavements, three quarters had witnessed serious violence in their area and 76% had been threatened with a weapon. These young people are traumatised by adverse childhood experiences that have developed through their lives. It is clear that intervention at an early stage, as well as when they get to such as stage, is crucial. Our ambition must be to make this country the safest country in the world for our young people. Nothing less will do.
I am very grateful, because of my sore throat. that the time limit has been reduced. When I heard it was originally nine minutes, I was going to encourage interventions.
I am a member of the Youth Violence Commission, alongside Vicky Foxcroft. I want to spend my allotted time making it clear that the recommendations in its report are very much evidence-based, and in particular are based on the evidence of the work we saw in Glasgow and in Scotland. When we launched the Youth Violence Commission, I said that one of the first things we need to tackle as a society is the cycle of low expectation in young people—I think we need to raise young people’s hopes—and also that youth violence is a preventable public health problem, but it does require resources and constant commitment.
That was seen when Swayed, a youth organisation that does street outreach work in my constituency, visited the London Assembly. Young people and youth workers met in London to discuss the work that is done both in London and in Glasgow, and I know that both organisations found that very beneficial.
So noted—and it has been good to work with the hon. Gentleman.
On the Youth Violence Commission’s visit in October last year, we went to a school. In my intervention on Ms Abbott, I mentioned the visits to schools that are made to give young people the skills to deal with challenging, threatening and abusive behaviour.
We visited an after-school club, which at that time was run by Sergeant Danny Stuart. We made an evening visit to Govan to see Johnny Hendry of YouthLink Scotland, a street outreach worker. He provided the commission with insights and a tour of some of the areas he goes to in Govan to engage with and support young people. Points were made earlier about gangs taking over, as well as about drug dealers and all the rest of it. Johnny tells me that what is happening in Scotland is that the violence reduction unit is dealing with the schools, but the drug dealers are after the ones playing truant.
We also visited another organisation in my constituency that has been praised in Parliament, the South West Arts and Music Project, to see its magnificent work. I am a great believer in providing young people with a creative outlet, such as video making or music. Young people can do so much to help the creative industries in our country, and it helps them with their health as well. I think that is one of the keys going forward.
The public health model adopted in Scotland has demonstrated that violence has significant social, structural and environmental root causes that need to be tackled. If a young person is subjected to harsh physical punishment or has seen physical punishment in the household, they are more likely, as others have said, to engage in violence. If we are to support the public health model across these islands, we need to have consistent funding; to provide opportunities, whether educational, recreational or economic; to promote social inclusion; and to enhance social cohesion between parents, young parents and communities. I will be doing all I can while I am a Member of Parliament to make sure that we tackle youth violence across these islands.
Over the past 18 months I have sat in the living rooms of grieving parents who have lost a precious child to knife crime, and in community centres with angry and bewildered local residents who are terrified by the violence they have witnessed. I have faced questions on too many occasions, in school assemblies and youth clubs, from frightened children who ask what is being done to stop knife and gun crime in our area.
Today I am speaking for the bereaved families of Jude Gayle, Kyall Parnell, and John Ogunjobi. Jude Gayle was killed last year as he popped out to the local shop to buy ingredients for a family meal. Kyall Parnell was stabbed at a bus stop in West Norwood on new year’s eve, and John Ogunjobi was stabbed just a few weeks ago on the Tulse Hill estate, in front of his mother who had come to pick him up to try to keep him safe.
Lambeth and Southwark, the boroughs that each serve part of my constituency, have among the highest rates of knife crime in London, and among the highest volume of serious violence against young people. That level of challenge has resulted in some truly exceptional work on this issue, and I pay tribute to the organisations that work hard every day to keep young people safe, to save the lives of those who are injured, and to intervene to turn lives around.
The work of the trauma team in King’s College hospital under Duncan Bew, Malcolm Tunnicliff and Emer Sutherland is second to none. They have developed life saving techniques for gun and knife-related injuries, and they also work with the charity Redthread, under the leadership of John Poyton, on an intervention approach for young people who come to the emergency department.
There are many inspirational community organisations, such as the Dwaynamics boxing gym, which was established by Lorraine Jones who lost her son, Dwayne Simpson, to knife crime in 2014. There is the work of Lee Dema and the St Matthew’s project, which provides football coaching for young people in Brockwell Park, and the Marcus Lipton youth centre led by Ira Campbell. Brixton Wings is based on the Angell Town Estate, and the Advocacy Academy empowers young people to speak truth to power on the issues that matter to them, and to work for change in their area.
The DIVERT team led by Inspector Jack Rowlands at Brixton police station—now also in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Lewisham—provides intensive support and intervention for young adults in police custody. It is hugely innovative and successful, and I am glad the Government recently recognised that by agreeing to extend funding for the existing programme for a further two years. Nevertheless, more commitment is needed. DIVERT should be the norm in every police station and every community where youth violence is a serious issue, and it should be funded as a part of mainstream policing. Both Lambeth and Southwark have sought to protect funding for youth services at a time when they have lost more than half their funding from central Government. Why, when there is so much good work to celebrate, is violence that affects young people continuing to increase?
The number of school exclusions has been rising in recent years, with particularly alarming increases among children eligible for free school meals and those with special educational needs, who account for almost half of exclusions. Currently, when a school excludes a child, the school’s responsibility for that child comes to an end. Since the number of academies is increasing under this Government, and academies have their own admissions authorities, in many areas it is becoming increasingly difficult for local authorities to find places for excluded children. A child who has been excluded needs more intervention, not less, and children who end up out of school for extended periods following exclusion are surely at greater risk of becoming involved in violence, both as victims and perpetrators. More must be done to fund our schools to provide intervention and support for students whose behaviour is challenging, and to hold them to account for the outcomes for every child who has been on their roll.
There is a huge and growing gap in the funding of children’s social services, estimated by the Local Government Association—I declare my interest as a vice president of the LGA—at around £3 billion. As a consequence, children’s social services departments are stretched to breaking point. They struggle to provide their statutory safeguarding services, and find it increasingly hard to recruit and retain social workers in an environment that is often high risk. Any department under such pressure will find it hard to do the proactive, preventive, early-intervention work that can prevent adverse childhood experiences and reduce the risk of violence later in childhood.
Our youth justice system is woefully under resourced. Government rhetoric on tough sentencing may play well in communities where young people do not regularly lose their lives to guns and knives, but the reality is a court system on its knees, which allows—this happened in my constituency recently—a young person bailed in north London to travel to south London to rob school children at knife point the next day. Our penal system delivers the scandalously high youth reoffending rate of 41.7%. Such a system must reform as well as punish, which is even more urgently the case for young offenders than for the rest of the prison population. Youth justice must be funded and resourced to do the intensive, transformative work that is needed to stop young offenders from returning to a life of violence. That is the right thing for victims as well as perpetrators and our communities more widely, and the current situation is shameful.
Access to mental health support, particularly for children and young people, remains far too difficult within early intervention and crisis services. The extent to which young people who are both the victims and perpetrators of violent crime are clinically traumatised is documented and evidenced, but still not reflected in mainstream practice in mental health services.
My final observation on this issue is the extent of the issues at local level which never register with any public services. I reflect on the conversations I have had recently with parents in my constituency. One mother told me about the number of young people with minor knife injuries who she has patched up in her kitchen because they are too scared to go to hospital, and how some of them have then become too scared to leave their own homes. She came to see me because she was struggling to support another mother whose child had been traumatised by the violence he had experienced and spent his days smashing up his mother’s home. Another mother told me how she will not let her 16-year-old pop out to the shop on her estate because:
“I don’t know which gang is going to be there and whether he will come back.”
The public health approach to youth violence has to mean more than words. The measure of the Government’s commitment to the public health approach in my constituency will be whether it relieves the anxiety of those mothers who are fearful every time their teenagers leave the house and whether it stops the killing. Next week, when I see the family of John Ogunjobi who was recently stabbed to death, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that that this is going to stop and that other families will not have to suffer their agony. Under this Government, I do not believe I can do so.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. The magnificent contributions from right hon. and hon. Members have been truly something to acknowledge.
The issue of youth violence has moved on massively from my day. There may not be many people of my day in the Chamber—perhaps with the exception of yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker, or thereabouts—but in those far off days a “fair dig” was the worst it ever got after school and then it was all over. Things have changed, however. I was horrified to read back in March that more than 1,000 children in Northern Ireland have received criminal convictions in the past five years. The youngest criminals convicted in that period were just 12 years of age. It costs £324,000 per year to keep a young person in custody and the Northern Ireland young offender population is proportionately larger than that of England and Wales. In total, 1,085 children under the age of 18 carried out one or more crimes in the past five years. Among that number are five 12-year-olds, the youngest of whom was convicted of criminal damage. There were 279 convictions in 2015 and 207 in 2017.
In the very short time I have, I would like to give two examples of solutions—this is about solutions as well as statistics. In my constituency, I am very fortunate to have an organisation called Street Pastors, which is a coming together of churches. Other Members may have something similar in their constituencies. It is clear that it is not simply youth violence that is the culprit of these convictions. It is also clear that this is something that must be addressed. Having seen a massive reduction in antisocial behaviour in my area with the work of Street Pastors, who have managed to make friendships, build trust and prevent cross words turning to street brawls, it is clear that the voluntary sector is an essential tool in tackling youth violence. Street Pastors has a good interaction with young people. Antisocial issues that led to violence have dissipated. I have seen its good work, which has been made possible by churches coming together.
The work carried out by community groups, churches and voluntary groups is incredible and brings dividends, but there is greater work to be carried out in other realms. I agree with the comments made by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge with regard to social media outlets living up to their responsibility and not simply doing the bare minimum expected of them. There must be an end to cyber-bullying, which then translates to physical violence. There must be a clear campaign that weapons and criminal activity is something to be ashamed of, not something to be proud of.
Across Northern Ireland, there has been a very successful advertising campaign that raises such awareness. It states the fact that paramilitaries do not protect, they harm. The adverts are, to say the least, chilling. The screams of a young lad, lying on the floor crying for his mother after being shot in the knees, are difficult to listen to. Paramilitaries and gangs act as judge, jury and executioner, discharging their own cruel, horrific and violent surgical justice. The adverts were commissioned by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland and they are being used on Snapchat and on other social media. I know how effective they are because of the conversations they have started with my staff and across my community. I know how harsh the adverts are, but the fact is that youth violence is harsh. It leaves long-lasting legacies. It is not a matter of being loyal and standing up for your friends, crew or gang; it is illegal behaviour that has the potential to ruin your life, harm others and bring immeasurable grief to families. The decision to run this type of hard-hitting campaign, which bids to end so-called paramilitary-style attacks, was not taken lightly, but I believe that it gets the right message across.
In conclusion—I am conscious of the time, Mr Deputy Speaker—it is my belief that we can do better on addressing youth violence and it is my fervent hope that we can do better, not simply for the victims, which is telling enough, but for all those who are caught up in it, taking things too far and being led further than they want to go. We cannot afford to lose a generation to gang mentality and rage. We must fund community groups and work alongside churches and other voluntary sectors to work with our young people and change mentalities. We must work with parents and give them the help and support needed to deal with troublesome teens and enable teachers to have choices in their school budget to address the differing needs of pupils. There is work to be done, and we must be determined to do it.
Let me say how much we welcome today’s debate. I know that it has felt like a Backbench Business Committee debate, but it was brought forward by the Government after my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft harassed them into doing so. However, I agree with Sir Edward Davey, who said that it could perhaps have been brought forward with a bit more urgency.
There is not time to list everyone’s contributions, but we have heard some incredibly passionate speeches. We have heard about the devastating consequences of cuts and the breach of the social contract with our young people, which my hon. Friend Chuka Umunna spoke about so powerfully. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Streatham, for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), as well as my hon. Friend Colleen Fletcher—we were grateful to her for bringing a non-London-centric point of view to the debate, because this is a national crisis.
We heard about the importance of preventive measures from the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). We also heard about the powerful lessons from Glasgow from Chris Stephens and the spokesperson for the SNP, Stuart C. McDonald.
I want to dwell on just two Members’ contributions. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton spoke about bereavement. I was on the trip to the violence reduction unit last week and to Polmont young offenders institution. The two greatest commonalities, as my hon. Friend Sarah Jones mentioned, were school exclusions and traumatic bereavements. Clearly, we need a fast-tracked pathway to trauma counselling for any young person who has experienced trauma, as that is a serious factor in becoming a victim of or committing youth violence.
It is impossible for me to do justice to the incredible work that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford has done as chair of the Youth Violence Commission. She gave us a full history of the public health debate and the need to treat violence as a disease—but a disease that can be cured—and she outlined the fundamental principles that need to be at the heart of the public health approach. She laid a challenge to the Government to ensure that our interventions are effective and evidence-based, and not simply knee-jerk reactions to congratulate ourselves on having taken action.
We have heard from Members about the devastating consequences of youth violence in their constituencies, but this is a national crisis, too. No society can keep its cohesion or its humanity—indeed, no society can claim to be one at all if it becomes complacent about young people dying on our streets. This is not a spike or a blip as we saw in 2008; it is a trend enveloping a generation of young people, and it requires immediate national action directed by Government. It must be directed from the very top as part of a national mission.
The Home Secretary highlighted the importance of early intervention in tackling violence when he told “The Andrew Marr Show” that we must deal with the “root causes” of violence. The £20 million a year to be spent on early intervention and prevention has to be seen in the context of the £387 million cut from youth services, the £1 billion taken from children’s services and the £2.7 billion taken from school budgets since 2015. As the Children’s Commissioner said in her excellent report on vulnerabilities:
“We are all familiar with frailty in old age but much less so for children and teenagers… do we know the same about children who start school unable to speak?...Do we understand how this affects their further progression? Do we realise that an inability to express yourself leads to anger, and difficult behaviour, which is then reflected in rising school exclusions … Do we know that if this continues…not only does the child’s education suffer but so does their mental health? Do we know that 60% of children who end up in the youth justice estate have a communication problem, most of which could have been effectively treated?”
We talk about hard-to-reach young people all the time in this place, but I would suggest that it is our services that are hard to reach and that we set young people up to fail.
The truth is that the public health model can work only with intensive support and investment in our most vulnerable young people, driven by a co-ordinated effect across government. This is not just about statutory agencies—the vision and duty must sit across a huge range of community services, and voluntary sector and faith organisations. I am concerned that the Government’s approach might be too restrictive and overly focused on statutory agencies. It is not clear how the new duty that the Minister has announced will go beyond the duty already placed on those agencies by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
The public health approach requires a strong criminal justice response. For that, we need police on our streets and in our communities. It requires a fundamental shift towards prevention and early intervention. Nothing that Glasgow and other public health models have achieved is rocket science. Very little of it requires legislation. However, it does require a clear mission statement, political will and leadership. It requires us to recognise that relationships must be at the heart of protecting and keeping our young people safe; and that human interventions from stable, trusted adults are the saviour of every young man or woman who has turned their life around. It requires young people’s voices to be at the heart of the design of those interventions, and it requires all our services to be trauma informed.
The challenge facing the country from violent crime is truly frightening and at times can feel overwhelming, but with the right resources, the right approach and the political leadership from the House and in every community in our country, it is possible to stem the tide.
With the leave of the House, I will wind up the debate.
I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to this important debate. We have heard, as I suspected we would, many sad instances. I thank colleagues who have shared the terribly sad stories from their constituencies in the Chamber.
I thank Vicky Foxcroft, who called for the debate. I gave her a hint that it might be worth her while to ask for it in business questions last week. I am pleased that she did so because my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was able to announce it. I also thank her for her work, along with the hon. Members for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and other colleagues, for their work on the Youth Violence Commission, which has certainly helped to inform our debate as well as our wider work on this important topic. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford asked a number of detailed and important questions. I hope she will understand that I will write to her to answer them. In fact, I will go further than that and invite her to the Home Office to discuss the issues she has raised, because they are important and worth considering very carefully.
As we have heard, this violence is having an appalling impact on families and communities. It is clear that tackling violent crime matters to and affects hon. Members on both sides of the House, which is why we must continue to work together to tackle it. I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott, for saying that we cannot arrest our way out of this. I completely agree with her and, in fairness, have been saying that for many months. I very much hope that the approach we are taking—the serious violence strategy and the public health duty—shows that we get that and are not just focusing on law enforcement, important though that can be in some respects.
I must always mention Lyn Brown when we have a debate on this. She made the point about grooming—the shadow Home Secretary talked about focusing on young people, which we tend to do because it is so terrible to think of young lives cut short. The older people who run the gangs and groom the young people are absolutely in our sights. That is where law enforcement is important. Through the work of the National Crime Agency and the serious and organised crime strategy, for which extra funding of £90 million has been announced today, we are absolutely determined to reach the leaders of those gangs.
Hon. Members including my hon. Friend Jack Brereton, Colleen Fletcher and Sir Edward Davey, mentioned the importance of investment, including longer-term investment, in charities and services that can help to intervene and stop young people from being involved in serious violence. That is why I have great expectations of the new £200 million youth endowment fund, which will be delivered over 10 years. We are in the process of setting it up, with a view to more investment. It is protected for 10 years. I can tell the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford that it will, I hope, fund innovative projects. We must accept that that will involve risk, because while I hope that those projects will succeed, they may fail. Sometimes, when ground-breaking work is being done, understanding what does not work helps us to find out what does. I very much hope that the fund will deliver transformative change in the way in which we tackle youth violence.
I have referred to the consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach. I am pleased that that has met with agreement across the House, because I think that it could help to focus minds, not just nationally but at local level, on the importance of tackling and intervening in serious violence at an earlier stage. We have also announced an independent review of drug misuse, and we are working on the final terms of reference. I hope to be able to make a further announcement shortly.
I thank the hon. Member for Streatham for his very powerful speech, and for his particularly powerful message to middle-class drug users. As he put it so eloquently, when they are snorting cocaine up their noses at the weekend, they need to understand how that coke got into their hands in the first place. I hope that the more we spread the message about the irresponsibility of such drug habits, the greater impact that will have on the young people whom we have talked about today.
There has been, interestingly, a focus on international elements. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and, again, to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford for mentioning the work of the World Health Organisation. We are not alone in seeing increases in serious violence in England and Wales. We know that, for example, the United States, Canada and Sweden have experienced rises in one or more types of serious violence over the last three years.
Last month we held an international symposium, drawing together more than 100 leading international and UK academics, senior police leaders, experts and practitioners to exchange ideas about the causes of those rises, and about best practice in tackling them. I managed to attend only a small part of the symposium, but it was a real pleasure to hear from senior law enforcement officers from Chicago, New York and elsewhere about what they call “precision policing”, and to learn about the international efforts to establish a health agenda as well. It was a very interesting and, for me, worthwhile exercise. We want to continue that international work, because we believe that—particularly in the context of the drug markets—we should not ignore what is happening elsewhere in the world, but should learn lessons from what has worked elsewhere.
Many colleagues raised the issue of exclusions. There is a great piece of work going on at the moment with Edward Timpson looking into alternative education provision. Having spoken to him again, I think that there will be some productive suggestions of ways of ensuring that children in alternative provision do not fall into the traps laid by criminal gangs. As we know, that happens, particularly in the case of county lines. The Department for Education is providing £4 million through its alternative provision innovation fund to improve outcomes for children in non-mainstream education. We continue to work together as Departments on the important task of tackling serious violence.
I was interested to hear what was said by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and Sarah Jones about the impact of grief on children. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s correspondence, because I think that that is an issue on which we should work together. I also thank my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, who, as I said earlier, made valuable contributions during the debate on the Offensive Weapons Bill. I took on board his points about cupboards, and we are having ongoing discussions with retailers about the voluntary matters.
Many other issues were raised which I regret I do not have time to deal with. Let me again stress our determination to stop serious violence, and also thank the police, emergency workers, hospital staff and everyone else who will be looking after us and our young people over Christmas. Let us end the debate as we began it, with the families who are grieving and the young people themselves very much in our minds and our hearts this Christmas.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered a public health model to reduce youth violence.