Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 6:11 pm, 15th May 2019

I think that the hon. Gentleman might have misheard me. I did not say anything about PCCs. He mentioned earlier that he was disappointed that we had voted against the settlement, and I am explaining exactly why: it is a fundamentally unfair way to fund the police and has no bearing on demand.

Joan Ryan built on her admirable campaigning work on county lines and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, talked about the excellent work of community groups in all our constituencies, but said that they were scraping by from year to year and competing for confusing and small pots of money.

My hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury spoke about the tragic deaths of teenagers in her constituency and the fact that the police are working with at least one hand tied behind their back, lurching from one hotspot to another. The system is not as effective as it could be with sustained neighbourhood policing models in place.

My hon. Friend Justin Madders built on the valuable experience of speaking to frontline officers in his constituency and spoke about them telling him how, from a very young age, they can predict which children are in danger of becoming involved in gangs, which he rightly says is a failure of the criminal justice system and, indeed, society.

My hon. Friend touched on domestic abuse, which has largely been missing from today’s debate. When I visit young offender institutions meet young offenders and, one of the most consistent factors in their backgrounds is coming from a household of domestic abuse. We welcome the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, and I take this opportunity to thank all the Members who have signed my letter today calling for an investigation into domestic abuse and the family courts. If we continue to allow children to grow up in households of domestic abuse, all we are doing is creating the next generation of young offenders.

Finally, my hon. Friend Janet Daby gave a powerful perspective on behalf of communities that are over-policed, and she spoke about the consequences for those communities of failing to build trust and relationships with the police. She also spoke about looked-after children and care leavers, who are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Those contributions show the breadth of policy areas on which the public health approach undeniably has to focus.

Last month’s crime statistics reveal the extent of the crisis before us today. As we have heard, never since records began have recorded incidents of violent crime been as high as they are today, yet police numbers stand at their lowest level for three decades—per population, the lowest level ever. It is important to reiterate why police numbers are important to tackling violent crime.

First, the fall in police officer numbers inevitably forces the police to refocus their resources on reactive policing. More crucially, local policing increases the legitimacy of the police, which encourages local communities to provide intelligence, report crime and work with the police proactively. That has been a massive failure of the past nine years of austerity. The cut to neighbourhood policing has seriously damaged community relations.

Policing matters—of course it does—but, as we have heard, the Government can hope to bear down on serious violence only if they bear down on the factors that lie behind it. The story of violence, and particularly youth violence, is at its heart a question of vulnerability. Children who fall behind are now denied the speech and language therapy they desperately need. Sure Start, a lifeline for many vulnerable parents, has been cut back, and the support it used to provide has been reduced. As children grow older, they are being routinely denied the talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapies and other psychological support that we know can reduce aggression and delinquency.

Schools, crushed under the weight of punitive funding pressures, have focused their cost-cutting on exactly the kind of targeted support needed by young people who are falling behind, including teaching assistants and special educational needs. Families are being denied intensive therapies that improve parenting skills, strengthen family cohesion and increase young people’s engagement, and that are known to reduce out-of-home placements and reoffending.

Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and, regrettably, insist that the problem appeared from nowhere. We have never heard any Minister accept that a reduction in support services, a substantial cut in youth services and slashing the police to levels per head never seen before has made the blindest bit of difference. If they cannot accept their responsibility, how can we trust them to put things right?

On early intervention and prevention, what is replacing the £880 million-worth of complex provision and support for young people and the £500 million lost from Sure Start? An early intervention fund of £17 million a year and a youth endowment fund of £20 million a year. Each has been shown to be inadequate in its own way, and they are not even close to meeting the challenges faced by communities.

Some 73% of bids to the early intervention youth fund have been rejected by the Government, communities in the west midlands have been deprived of a vital project to tackle county lines exploitation, and Greater Manchester has been deprived of funding to support families against crime. In Durham, and across the country, it is the same story in violent crime hotspots. How can the Government look at this evidence and say that their efforts to tackle the problem are even close to matching the challenge?

As we have heard, the Government have launched a consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, but it is far from clear how that will differ from or go beyond the duties already placed on agencies under crime and disorder reduction partnerships or under “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance. A true public health approach requires a resourced, co-ordinated, cross-Government strategy led by the Prime Minister, as we have repeatedly called for. The taskforce mentioned by the Home Secretary today, and chaired by him, has met once, and, so far no actions have been announced.

We are in a state of emergency, with the most despicable criminals exploiting the space where well-run and effective early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies once existed. The pursuit of young children by gangs is now a systematic and well-rehearsed business model, according to the Children’s Commissioner. It is a national crisis that demands a sense of urgency, but that is not being felt from this Government. We cannot allow this drift. We need Ministers to step up to the plate, we need leadership from the Prime Minister, we need resources and we need concerted, sustained action from the Government.