Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 5:38 pm, 15th May 2019

I pay tribute to the excellent speakers we have heard so far, particularly my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who is no longer in her place. From the point of view of the lives of two young people, she explained the difference that adequate resources across swathes of the public sector makes to the life chances of children, as well as the cost to the public purse. I could not put it any better, and her speech will remain in my memory for a long time to come.

In my constituency in the past year, we have seen an increase in muggings at knifepoint. In March in Isleworth, a 17-year-old man was knifed and tragically died. It seems to be the case that most of the victims and perpetrators were teenagers, starting out on life. The perpetrators were known to some of the victims; they were part of a tit-for-tat feud, perhaps drugs-related. Other incidents were random attacks on young people for their phones or bank cards. Hounslow, my borough, has one of the lowest levels of violent crime incidents in London, but that does not really feel good to my constituents because violent crime has increased overall everywhere, including in Hounslow. At least the Home Secretary has admitted that fact.

The police have clearly been the focus of debates on violent crime and knife crime, which is where I am focusing my speech, but we cannot just talk about the police in terms of responses to persistent crime and crime incidents, particularly in certain areas. Those responses work well where the police work with other agencies. For instance, following a spate of muggings on Chiswick back common, the public worked with police, the council, local businesses, youth workers and so on to find solutions, and it really worked. Between a public meeting held in December in response to the attacks and the follow-up meeting in March, the number of incidents had gone down to zero. However, the problem is that the police in London are working with one hand behind their back. Extra patrols in one hotspot are viable only until another hotspot is identified elsewhere and the police have to be moved on to work there. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford described the cost to the public purse and police time of every serious injury and murder from violent crime. She asked: could not that time—that resource—be better spent? Of course it could.

We are starting from the baseline of serious police cuts—3,000 fewer police officers in London, or more than 80 fewer in the Borough of Hounslow. We have seen a similar cut in the number of local police community support officers, so that the ward teams are less than half their strength in 2010. That is all as a direct result of the one-third cut in Government grant to the London Mayor’s budget. By 2022, the Metropolitan police will have lost about £1 billion in funding since 2010. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is doing what he can and he is contributing to frontline policing, but the scale of the cuts causes delays in responding to crime, less outreach and less community policing, where officers get to know the youngsters on their patch.

I am really pleased that the Mayor of London has adopted the public health model. He has learned from the experience in Glasgow, which has been mentioned. He has put some money back into the Metropolitan police budget—£234 million—which has brought back some extra police officers, but nothing like as many as we have lost. Even if the police were funded at the same level as in 2010, we all know that credible action by the police working in conjunction with others is not the solution. It may simply move the problem. Perhaps the police are successful and lock up serious offenders, which puts them out of action for a while, but actually, by the time the police are involved with a young person, whether the victim or an alleged perpetrator, it is too late. The police are dealing with the symptoms of the problems, not what has gone wrong.

To understand the impact of cuts in my constituency, as a result of the trigger-point incidents I have met local police, headteachers, school and college students, councillors and many others. I wanted to know what my constituents felt about the rising incidence of knife crime, so in April I hosted a crime summit in Isleworth—it was already being planned before the tragic murder. I am also currently distributing a crime survey to ask local people about their experience of serious youth crime, as well as their views on the causes and solutions and on support for young people and their parents. I have already received a lot of replies. People want action. They see the impact of crime on their community and on their children. They want to make a difference, but they want the Government to take action and to commit real funding to the places where it is needed.

In one response to one of the questions, “What do you think is the cause of the problem?” was written the word “criminals”, but we all know that we cannot put people into pigeonholes and define one group of young people as criminals and everybody else as the public. I think everybody in this debate and all the other respondents to my survey understand that. In the survey, the issue of police numbers was frequently raised. People know that the police are under-resourced and they see the pressure it that is putting on services such as crime reporting, police-community engagement and so on.

The most common issue raised in the survey was the lack of and cuts to youth services. People see youth services as part of a range of solutions. They are not just something for children to do after school while they wait for their parents to come home. They are a place for children to socialise, meet responsible role models, learn a skill or a sport and touch base with somebody who can help them with their problems. They are a place for counselling services, homework clubs and so on. Those things need a base, which has to be open at the times and on days when children need them. I was very upset to hear a Government Member talk about youth clubs not being nine-to-five. Good quality, well funded youth clubs do not just open after school during the week; they are open at weekends and during the holidays.

As I said, my constituents do not label those caught up in crime as someone else’s fault or as someone else’s child. That became clear when several mothers raised with me their worries about their own youngsters, asking themselves, “Is my child at risk of getting caught up? Are they carrying a knife, whether for protection or planned use?” The reality is that it makes little difference if a children is maimed or killed. One other worrying thing we are finding is anecdotal evidence that, faced with stop-and-search, girls are carrying knives for the boys. Parents want a safe space to share their concerns about their children.

Young people told me that in almost all cases the youngsters they knew—they may or may not have been speaking for themselves—who were at risk or were involved in gang activities, carrying knives and so on, were doing so reluctantly. It was not their voluntary choice. They were often caught up in something. One example involved a young person who had no food at home because there was no money to buy food. Hanging around after school or college outside a chicken shop, somebody said, “You a bit hungry, mate? I’ll buy you a meal.” “Oh, okay, fine.” That young person was then caught up: “When are you going to pay me back?” That is just one simple example of how easy it is for young people who do not have any money, who have time on their hands or are looking for role models, to get caught up in gang and non-consensual activity. That just illustrates why we need better quality early intervention.

Every headteacher and school manager I have spoken to over the past three years, often about school cuts, has told me that the impact of the real-terms cuts on their schools, including primary schools, has meant that too often they have had to cut services such as welfare, counselling, mental health support, affordable after-school activities and so on—all the things that they know keep children positively occupied. We all remember what a teacher said the other day on “Question Time” on the BBC when she challenged the Minister. She said that teachers know who these young people are, so they would prefer that, rather than giving them more work to do, the Home Secretary supported them in the work they are trying to do with the children who are vulnerable.

The silo nature of Government does not help. It is good that the Home Office team and their Opposition shadows are leading the debate, but where are the Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education or the Department of Health and Social Care? It is not just the responsibility of the Home Secretary and the Home Office.

Funding is at the centre of this issue across the country, whether in cities or towns, urban or rural areas, for local authorities, police services, charities or other services. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said that the Home Office is providing new funds of around £35 million annually, but that should be set against the £768 million cut per annum on youth services across the country. The figures for all of the Home Secretary’s wonderful new projects come to only 5% of the cuts made to youth services. Local authorities used to receive a substantial amount of their total income from MHCLG, yet those grants have been cut by more than 50%, and more in areas of greater deprivation.

As has been said in numerous debates in this place, cuts to local government have meant cuts to all services, particularly non-statutory services, of which youth services are among the most prominent. Let us have no illusions about these politically driven austerity policies. Austerity is not about economic necessity; it is about cutting the public sector. When the public sector is cut, there are cuts to youth services, police services, education and so on.

Early interventions, such as children’s centres, basic welfare and early counselling, benefit most the young people who are at the greatest risk of being victims or perpetrators of crime. We need to see them restored. We need more school nurses and specialist mental health services in schools, as well as local counselling services. Cuts to leisure services mean that pools and sports centres may stay open, but only if the price rises beyond the pocket of young people from low-income families, so again they are excluded.

Too many communities are having to deal with the heartbreaking impact of violent crime, and the Government are still being too slow to act. I appreciate that the Home Secretary acknowledges the seriousness of the issue, but Ministers cannot just offer warm words. One-off funding announcements are a drop in the ocean compared with the funding lost to youth services, schools, colleges, the police and so on. That is the real issue that needs addressing. We need sustained investment in our communities in early intervention, youth clubs and frontline policing. The warm words of Conservative Members are meaningless when their austerity is the root of the problem.