Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 3:31 pm, 15th May 2019

I visited Cardiff last year, and the senior police officers and the police and crime commissioner put to me the case for more funding. That case is well made.

On the question of knife crime, as of March 2011—not long after the coalition Government took office—there were 30,600 offences with a knife or sharp instrument; by 2018, that total had reached more than 40,800. That is a rise of nearly a third. In the latest year, there was a 12% increase in homicide, even if we exclude the cowardly terrorist attacks in Manchester in London. It is an appalling record; it is actually shameful. Government cuts have consequences. The Home Office’s own data shows that almost half of all crimes are closed with no suspect identified. In the past year, the proportion of summons or charges fell from 11% to 9%. That means a reduction of summons and/or charges in 41,000 individual cases. Police strength does have an impact in the fight against crime. Cuts do have consequences.

I have long taken an interest in disorder and crime—since long before I had the honour to represent my party on home affairs from the Front Bench—and my view on serious violence is, as with all policy matters, that we should focus on what works. From the inception of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow, we have seen a system that works: homicides due to knife crime in Glasgow have plummeted. We welcome the £80 million that the Chancellor has provided in funds for the new violence reduction units—it is a policy that we have long advocated on the Opposition Benches and we are pleased that the Home Secretary is copying the Labour party—but violence reduction units alone are not enough.

The Glasgow violence reduction unit was established when public spending was rising under Labour. The allocation of the latest funds takes place as austerity still rules. That means that poverty and inequality will continue to rise, as will zero-hours contracts, no proper apprenticeships and the burden of student debt. Pupils continue to be excluded, and find themselves in pupil referral units. The Government have a failed drugs policy combined with police cuts. We argue that the underlying causes of crime, and the opportunities for crime, are rising, and the prospect of criminals being caught are falling. More money for violence reduction units is welcome, but while austerity continues, they are unlikely to be as successful as they could be. As money is trickled into violence reduction units, the Government have carved a big hole in the bottom of the bucket with austerity.

When it comes to law and order, the Government cannot take with one hand, with the big cuts in local authorities, and give with the other, through individual pots of money for things such as violence reduction units and the youth endowment fund. Those individual pots of money do not begin to compensate for nearly a decade of cuts to policing, to youth services and to mental health services for young people and adolescents, and Ministers should not pretend that they do so. All the summits, the committees, the reviews, the new legislation and even a new statutory duty cannot compensate for an overall lack of resources.

As for the public health approach, in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Chief Constable Sara Thornton stressed the importance of strong drive, co-ordination and a concerted approach, if the public health approach was to succeed in England. Chief Constable Dave Thompson of the West Midlands police pointed out that, although the Home Secretary’s strategy alludes to a public health-based approach, it is not yet a public health-based strategy. There is next to no mention of violence in Public Health England documentation, including in Public Health England’s outcomes document. I understand that there is a consultation going on, but people will not take this Government seriously on a public health approach until that begins to be reflected in the actual practice and the actual close working between Public Health England, education and the NHS.

Violent crime haunts our communities. We argue that it is not just a failure of individual boys, young men and, increasingly, women, but an overall failure of Government policy, and it is partly caused by austerity. When it comes to violent crime, words are easy, but providing the proper resources and taking the right actions are difficult. I argue that, as we move into a weekend where, inevitably, we will hear about more violent crime and more knife crime, it is well past time that the Government left behind words, good intention and pots of money and showed genuine intent and provided the genuine level of resources that are needed.