For a change.
Like the majority of hon. Members here, I have regular dialogue with my local police. Last week’s conversation was mainly about what they had been doing to tackle a noticeable spike in youth disorder in Ellesmere Port in the last year or so. Indeed, recorded crime figures for Cheshire as a whole show a rise in public order offences of 55% in one year up to June 2018, which I found astonishing.
That meeting was useful as a constituency Member to hear not only about what they considered were the local challenges and hot spots, but about their wider perspective on what they consider their challenges and the impediments to doing their job. I was left with a strong impression that the police do a fantastic job. Indeed, as a result of the action they have taken through banning orders, dispersal orders and so on there has been a reduction in antisocial behaviour. Thankfully, in my constituency we have not had the epidemic of knife crime seen in many other parts of the country, but the disturbances we have had have been hugely destructive for those on the receiving end, and they have taken up a disproportionate amount of police time. The police are essentially undertaking a damage-limitation exercise. They have the dispiriting knowledge that they can haul in a young person for questioning and even go through the youth justice system, but nothing will change the behaviour of the hard core of youths until they are fully within the criminal justice system.
I understand that we need proper processes and justice, and that for most youngsters their first contact with the police will be their last, but I also know from what my local police say that they can predict with alarming accuracy which 14 and 15-year-olds they come across will be behind bars by the age of 20. That represents a failure not only of the criminal justice system but of our society. To understand the reason for that failure we must look not just at how these kids are dealt with when they come into contact with the authorities but at what drives them to the point where at the age of 14 there appears to be a sad inevitability about where their lives will end up.
As my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft said, we know that adverse childhood experiences can provide clues to adult behaviour, but we should also think about how decisions we make here have an impact. As we have heard from several Members, there is a clear link between the spike in youth-related violence in the last year or two and the decimation of the public sector that started just under a decade ago. It started with the culling of Sure Start centres, continued in the stretched social services, and ends with councils drastically reducing their youth provision. There is ample evidence of the damage done by austerity that does not appear on the balance sheet.
My local police have been doing a fantastic job with diversionary activities, and that has had some effect on reducing antisocial behaviour, but the point they make to me—and fairly so—is that every pound they spend on such activities is a pound less they can spend on putting bobbies on the beat. In the context of their having a net funding loss of £40 million since 2010, and with 200 fewer police officers and PCSOs since then, they know better than most that every penny counts. As we have heard, nationally we have the lowest numbers of police for three decades. Since 2010, we have lost about 20,000 police officers. It is unsustainable to carry on in this way. As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said:
“I would be naive to say that the reduction in police finances over the last few years, not just in London but beyond, hasn’t had an impact.”
Yet here we are again talking about the same issues.
We have all paid a price for the police cuts; it is to the credit of the police that despite those cuts they have found funding for diversionary activities in my constituency. It is the sort of thing that should be provided by the council, but we know how many local authorities have had their budgets slashed in the past decade, as we have heard from many Members. On top of the increased demand on social care, such discretionary services are inevitably the ones to drop off. Figures obtained by the all-party group on knife crime show that the average council cut in real-terms to spending on youth services has been about 40% over the past three years. Some have actually reduced it by 91%. A study of local authority expenditure on youth services shows that it has fallen by £880 million in real terms since 2010-11.
There is a clear connection between where we are now and what has happened to public services over the past decade, but changes can be made that require not money but a different approach. There is a cohort of young people who feel they are untouchable, for whom the prospect of arrest holds no fear and the prospect of being taken home by the police and having to answer to their family is not a problem. These are the ringleaders, the hard core, who the local police tell me have to be taken through a series of hoops aimed at improving behaviour but for whom they know such voluntary interventions will do nothing until they get to the compulsory order stage. However, it can take up to a year before those orders can be obtained—a year during which the individual can continue to wreak havoc on their local community. We need earlier compulsory interventions: deal with the ringleaders early on and the rest will soon drop away.
We need to take a long, hard look at how we can do more to stop young people going down this road at a much earlier age. It means no more off-rolling by schools of difficult pupils; it means a joined-up approach by all those involved with families in need; and it means a more intensive focus on diversionary activities at a much younger age. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford said, we need to resource this properly and not just keep saying it is something we need to do. It is very clear what the direction of travel should be.
I want to say a bit about what is probably the most serious violence issue in my constituency, but one that happens behind closed doors. It is of course domestic abuse. It is all around us, but we do not see it. It is a sadly frustrating cycle of violence that people fall into and which seems impossible to break. There are issues around how we are unable to stop these things happening, and we ought to reflect on how we deal with them. In my police force area of Cheshire, there has been a 45% rise in violent crime in the last year. I do not know how much of that is down to domestic violence, but certainly the number of local authority safeguarding referrals which have included a domestic abuse element has increased significantly, and is well above the regional average.
If I can stand up here and say that there has been a 45% rise in violent crime in my police area in one year, that represents a crisis. It represents an emergency. It represents something about which we ought to be doing more in the House. I do not want us to reach a point at which stabbings and murders on the streets become the norm, because if we accept that as a society, we in this place have absolutely failed.
I agree with Huw Merriman about the empty Benches. That sends an appalling message about priorities in this place. It is clear from what Members have been saying that they believe there is a crisis that we cannot continue to ignore. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker mentioned the 10,000 children who are operating in county lines. A whole generation of kids have been written off because of Government inaction. As my hon. Friend said, this is an emergency, but because the Government have been eaten up from the inside by their own individual issues, they have become a dysfunctional, failing Government—a Government who have failed our entire country.
Crises of this kind, and the discussions that we are having now, ought to have a much better audience here, and much better action. The fact that we have such a shambolic, disengaged Government suggests to me that they have no right to be in charge of the country any more, because they have let people down completely. The idea that they are the party of law and order is an absolute joke. The messages that we have heard from Members on both sides of the House today need to be taken on board and acted on, because this is a crisis that we cannot allow to continue.