Violent Crime - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:02 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 3:02 pm, 29th November 2018

We cannot blame the mushrooming of violent crime on a single issue, my Lords; it is the sad confluence of many factors. A whole range of problems have brought us to where we are today: increased social breakdown, pressure on public sector resources, nervousness over stop and search, and a lack of funding for critical community groups. These wide-ranging challenges will not be solved overnight. While it is right to focus on the government response, making sure that it is a consistent multiagency approach, business must also recognise the power that it possesses to make a real difference. I will focus my remarks on that point.

It will of course take political patience and bravery but, more than this, we need a meaningful, co-ordinated and targeted approach that includes the private sector. Capitalism is currently a dirty word, but this could be a real opportunity for business to show the genuine value that it brings to society. We know that mentoring and training, for example, can have an extraordinary impact, giving people the skills they need to take a different path. These are all things that companies can and should offer in the communities they operate in. Many of course do already, but it is too patchy and lacks focus. Having worked for BT for over two years, I have seen at first hand how much corporates want to give back to society, but government and business will need to work hand in glove if these contributions are to solve complex issues such as violent crime.

However, there is so much more we can do together to direct efforts strategically and for the greatest impact. Companies would greatly appreciate guidance from government on where they could add the most value. Some firms have more responsibility than others. Companies which play their part in this disruption of society need to step up when it comes to mending it. Social media and technology giants in particular should heed the warnings from people at the coalface. When the likes of Cressida Dick say that social media can amplify violence at a terrifying pace, they need to sit up and listen. They need to start taking this as seriously as they have done with terrorism. Brain power and money need to be spent on more ethical designs for products and on removing harmful content from their sites quicker or not letting it get on there in the first place. I apologise to your Lordships—I feel a little faint and will have to sit down. I hope your Lordships do not mind if I carry on while sitting down. These businesses, more than anyone, should think of creative ways to help vulnerable communities, offering training courses, apprenticeships, jobs or entrepreneurial seed funding. They should inspire young people and help them, working in schools and definitely pupil referral units. We know that gang members come from so many of these institutions, and we should double down our efforts in those organisations.

Heavy-handed state interventions are needed less when we have the opportunity to empower people through businesses and social enterprises. Take the SOS Project, a charity set up by an inspirational ex-offender called Junior Smart. Its programme reduces reoffending rates from 75% to just 12%. This is the sort of project we need to support, expand and augment through collaboration, and we need a more evidence-based approach about what works and what does not.

Another key barrier to progress is apathy. Nobody could fail to be shocked and saddened when we read of young people being killed, and many more being groomed to join the county lines. But all too often, people detach themselves from the problem, believing that it does not affect them or their community. I have already mentioned the obligation that business has not to walk on by, but this has to go further. Let us take middle-class drug users. Many will think of themselves as upstanding individuals, with their recyclable coffee cup to drink their morning latte from, or a monthly payment to a worthwhile charity. But they also think nothing of doing a bit of coke at the weekend with their friends, seemingly unaware of the misery and the fear that helps to bring it to their doorstep. They need to know that it is not harmless fun and to remember how fortunate they are to feel so detached from violent crime. In fact, we should all remember that. Apathy often comes from good fortune, when one has enjoyed a clear path to where one wants to get to in life and therefore one forgets the genuine struggles of others: chaotic home lives, time in care and poor education. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned, joining a gang may seem like an appealing option in comparison to what is at home.

In summary, we have spent a lot of time talking about a joined-up, all-systems approach, but now is the time to do it. The co-ordinated commitment shown by government but also business to combating issues such as terrorism and cybercrime has also shown what a tangible difference this sort of collaboration can make. I can stand up now, as I feel less faint. We need to take the same care over the deeply ingrained social issues that can cause violent crime. We cannot just pick things up and then drop them, or just jump at a single, top-level solution. If we are to make a real difference, we need to make a ceaseless effort to attack these problems at their very heart.