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.