My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey on securing this important debate on the recent increase in violent crime.
London has seen a tragic number of young men killed in knife crime in the last year, and the death toll keeps rising. The cross-party Youth Violence Commission, chaired by my colleague in another place Vicky Foxcroft, published its interim report this July, and I wish to highlight some of its key findings. It suggests that preventing youth violence will require a strategic approach, involving almost every part of Whitehall and the wider government machine. The report states that successful implementation at the local level will also need to involve deep and extensive collaboration with schools, youth workers, police officers and faith and community leaders, as well as parents and individuals, in the creation of a safer, fairer and more positive future for young people.
The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy has been welcomed by the commission for its recognition of the impact on young people of childhood trauma and adverse experiences, the importance of early intervention and preventing violence later in life, and the need for greater integration of services, which is often known as the public health approach. However, concern has been expressed that the strategy lacks sufficient resources. Some £40 million of public funds may not be adequate. The shadow Home Secretary said that,
“in the past 12 months the police recorded almost 40,000 knife crime offences and well over 6,000 firearms offences; the funding allocated to discourage, prevent, divert and detect serious weapons-related violent crimes is therefore just a few hundred pounds for each offence”.—[Official Report, 22/5/18; col. 750.]
The Mayor of London’s strategy on knife crime recognises that effective school and after-school programmes, youth provision and summer activities are critical to deal with some of the factors such as poverty, unemployment and educational failure that result in young people becoming involved in crime. There is no quick fix to youth violence; the root causes are complex, including childhood trauma, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues, inadequate state provision, deficient parental support, poverty and social inequality.
Research has shown that young people carry knives for self-defence and protection, but some carry to commit crime and must be apprehended. Some join gangs for a sense of belonging. Work needs to be done on intelligent monitoring of gangs by the police, with more resources allocated. There is a need for cross-party support to tackle the long-term nature of this epidemic. I welcome the Government’s decision not to focus solely on law enforcement—especially stop and search—but to encourage partnerships across education, health, social services, housing, youth and victim services.
Early intervention is key, and a successful youth violence reduction strategy will, over time, shift and concentrate resources on prevention activities. But aspirations cannot be fulfilled without long-term funding by the Government. Noble Lords have already spoken of the decline in children and youth services, as well as community policing, and lack of support for parents; austerity has caused much distress to communities and families.
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies argued this week that:
“Interventions which do not seek to address wider social issues such as inequality, deprivation, poor mental health and drug addiction are unlikely to provide long-lasting solutions to knife violence”.
The Mayor of London is lobbying for more resources for the police, and for local government to receive help to reinstate and expand youth services. He has allocated serious funding for the Young Londoners Fund, as already mentioned. The commission found a clear link between school exclusions and vulnerability or propensity to youth violence; excluded children are more likely to be groomed by gangs to be runners in the county lines drug supply chains.
The Local Government Association has also warned that,
“the targeting of young people excluded from secondary schools is a major feature in the profile of ‘county lines’… In some areas, PRUs become the arena for gang rivalries … where already vulnerable young people get first hand exposure to and experience of crime”.
As the 2017 IPPR report on the link between school exclusion and social exclusion found:
“Excluded children are the most vulnerable: twice as likely to be in the care of the state, four times more likely to have grown up in poverty, seven times more likely to have a special educational need and 10 times more likely to suffer recognised mental health problems”.
The commission’s Safer Lives survey of over 2,000 young people found that drug markets generate violence and create a crime hierarchy where our most vulnerable young people are groomed to enter the lower levels of drug distribution. The damaging lack of trust between the police and some communities must also be addressed. The reduction in community policing must be reversed. Walls of silence will not help police to find the perpetrators, and young people must be listened to with respect. As the commission says:
“Any future violence reduction strategy will have to place a premium on establishing trust and mutual respect”.
We can be quick to blame society’s ills on social media, but the commission found it not to be a root cause of youth violence though it can be a factor in escalating and inciting violence; internet giants should take some responsibility for what they allow to be platformed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said. The Mayor of London’s strategy rightly involves working with social media organisations to ensure that online videos which glorify knife crime are quickly taken down.
Interestingly, the commission found that debates around the potential impact of drill music on youth violence, already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Harris, are in the main a distraction from understanding and tackling the real root causes. Some projects that help young people to have a sense of their own self-worth by encouraging them to learn to record and produce the music that the media like to condemn are, sadly, under threat because of cuts to youth services.
It is now time for us all to come together to effectively tackle this tragic epidemic of knife violence by long-term investment in our young generation.