Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 5:03 pm, 15th May 2019

It is clear from this debate, and from the experience of our constituents, that the Government are losing the war on violent crime. A generation of young people in urban and rural areas is growing up in fear of violence, in fear of knife crime and gun crime, and in fear of losing their lives on the very streets on which they live.

Knife-related homicide is at its highest level since recording began in 1946. Some 285 people were killed with knives and sharp instruments in 2017-18, and there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year to September 2018, as well as 3,000 threats to kill. It is not just knives, but guns too. Last year, gun crime increased by 11%, to 6,604 recorded offences, compared with 2016. It has not always been like this. In the past eight years, knife crime in Tower Hamlets has increased by 34%, from 794 offences in 2010-11 to 1,065 offences in 2017-18.

Each and every incident is horrific, as has been highlighted by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. Each murder creates a shattering lifetime of grief for the friends and family of the victim. Each wounding can change lives forever, causing physical disability and mental trauma and reducing life expectancy. However, these incidents also have a deeper impact on our society, as others have mentioned. The increase in violent crime creates a climate of fear and suspicion. It adds to anxiety and has an impact on mental health. It creates a divide between the generations and between communities. It drives a wedge into our society, and makes us distrustful of our fellow citizens and apprehensive about entering public spaces.

Why is this happening? There are those who claim that it is all down to an increase in reporting, as the shadow Home Secretary pointed out. Of course, that would be entirely welcome, but it does not explain the spike in numbers. A number of my hon. Friends have pointed out some of the underlying causes, and we do not need a degree in criminology to understand what is going on here. In particular, there are major factors in play that, whether the Government recognise it or not, relate in part to the erosion of the resources and support available for young people, which can be seen from Sure Start to youth services, school sports, education, further education, those with special needs, children in care, and children at risk of being excluded from school. In those and a number of other areas, young people’s support networks and the resources available to back them up, help them achieve and help them realise their potential have been shattered. Instead, young people are victims of crime and, at worst, face death as a consequence of knife crime and other violent crime. That is a waste of talent and potential in our society, and it creates fear and has an impact in the wider community as well.

Funding for local authority children’s services has fallen by £3 billion since 2010. Since 2010, hundreds of millions of pounds have also been axed from youth services; as has been mentioned, there has been a reduction of 138,000 in the number of youth service places and an overall cut of £760 million. Some 3,600 youth workers have been lost from our communities; those people help to support our young people, but they are no longer in those roles. Central Government funding for youth offending schemes has also halved, from £145 million in 2010 to £72 million in 2017-18. So it is not by accident that we have ended up here. These catastrophic cuts have contributed to undermining support, and they are underlying factors in what has happened and in the rise in violent crime.

That is not to mention the significant cuts in policing. In London, numbers have fallen below 30,000 officers. There has also been a cut of 6,800 in police community support officers, who have been the backbone of community policing. They spot problems early and work with young people and other services in a multi-agency approach to support young people before they get into further trouble and face the threat of violence, or end up being groomed by organised criminal gangs and drugs gangs and facing the same plight as so many young people who have lost their lives. In London, we have lost a third of police staff posts as well.

In my constituency and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, we had 125 police community support officers in 2010, and the number went down drastically to just 27 in 2017. That is a 78% cut, and such cuts have consequences. Combined, the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney—they have had to merge into a borough command unit, partly because of the cuts—have lost 500 officers in the past nine years. That has a consequence. The idea is that by adding a plaster to the wound with some additional funding here and there the Government can reverse the damage that those massive cuts have had over the past few years, but frankly that is tinkering around the edges. It is just not going to address the major problem of violent crime that we face in our society.

We need to look into where legal changes might be necessary, but it is really important that the Government do not respond in a kneejerk way and return to disproportionate stop-and-search policies that end up turning communities, particularly the black and minority community, against the police. The use of stop-and-search must remain proportionate and safe, people must be protected, and innocent people must not be caught up in it. We have to make sure that we invest in police services, and in our young people through youth services, Sure Start centres, children’s centres, holiday projects, boxing clubs and other sports facilities, on the scale that is required. We need to invest in drugs action teams, which have lost funding. In constituencies such as mine, they have been doing incredible work to prevent young people from returning to gangs. We also need to deal with addiction issues and mental health projects, because funding for child mental health programmes has been cut. All these are interconnected issues. The joint approach—the public health model—is important, but it has to mean something. Just calling it the public health approach without backing it with resources is not going to work.

There is rightly general consensus that we absolutely have to deal with the terrible issue of serious violence, which is affecting our constituents and the whole of society. I am sure we all now have a greater fear of violent crime than we ever did, because this is happening in our communities. It is happening to people we know, their family members or their relatives. I know that through my work in my constituency: murders have taken place in our borough and there are reports of knife crime almost on a weekly basis. We need the Government to put in the investment and act, and we need to ensure that we do everything possible to prevent further deaths.