My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, not least for condensing the issues into a 36-word title for the debate. A couple of months ago there was a fight in my street where someone suffered stab injuries. My neighbour was very upset and disbelieving: “In our street in quiet Mortlake?” I was particularly struck by the large number of police officers who were on the scene for many hours. To me that said: “Resources”.
The expression of disbelief is something that one still hears in connection with domestic violence: “It does not happen to anyone we know”. That is sometimes code for “Not in our section of society”. But it does happen. Perhaps domestic violence is a little less prevalent than when I was a member of the board and chair of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. I declare that as an interest, as I do as a current trustee of Safer London, which works to address and prevent the impact of gang and sexual violence, and the exploitation of young people and their families. Both positions have of course informed me.
We are familiar with the number of deaths from domestic violence, which still shocks, and we know that there is far more abuse than is reported. I understand that research by the College of Policing tells us that there is no clear evidence that criminal sanctions reduce reoffending. Indeed, there is a suggestion that punitive sentences are associated with higher rates of reoffending. We know about the financial constraints on refuges and the support that they can offer, but time does not permit me to range right around that subject.
As regards young people, it is blindingly obvious that the causes of violence run very deep and that a siloed approach is inappropriate. Safer London has for several years been providing for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime a gang exit programme. London Gang Exit is now referred to as “LGE” within the organisation because the young people involved resent the term “gang”. “They are our family”, they say. Just think what leads a young person to take that view.
One of the threads running through the issue is exploitation. Earlier this week, I heard Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the NPCC lead on modern slavery, talking about county lines and explaining that we should not use that term. It is exploitation. It is also something of a badge of honour among those who apply it. We accept, in the sense of recognising, child sexual exploitation. Similarly, we should refer to child criminal exploitation. I saw CCE used in a paper yesterday; it took me a moment before I realised that it was obviously about grooming. County lines—that form of child criminal exploitation—are almost a matter of fashion, according to Chief Constable Sawyer, and will be superseded by another form of grooming and exploitation. There is a danger of compartmentalising drugs, CSE—I do not want using the acronym to diminish the importance of that issue—CCE, slavery and so on.
Shaun Sawyer also emphasised how much intelligence comes from the local level. Neighbourhood policing provides both intelligence and a sense of security. Local officers, whom local people know and trust, can be passed information about the knife-carriers, when they carry and where they hide weapons. That means more accurate stop and search and taking weapons off the streets.
Statistics and talking about categories can mask the fact that this is all about individuals. Supporting individuals, especially through a health approach, is very resource-intensive and painstaking, but it is worth it. Motivation is important, which is why the process finds a young person who has been injured and is in hospital at his most receptive to the work that can be applied.
I want to share Jane’s story with your Lordships. A Safer London report states:
“Jane was fifteen and living in London, when she was referred to London Gang Exit. She was an active member of a gang and unable to leave … She was considered both a perpetrator and victim of violence … We used creative techniques, so she could visually map out her associations and define those which were healthy or unhealthy. Sessions also covered coping strategies and creative work to boost Jane’s notion of ‘self’, her role within society and within her family … Life remained complex and Jane stayed vulnerable to damaging external pressures. At one stage she was found to be on the verge of committing violent crimes and going missing. At this time, we focused sessions on short term goals to build her confidence and determination; we also examined her considerable achievements and commitment to making positive changes to her life … We worked with Jane’s parents around family relationships and boundaries. The family were also close to being evicted and we were able to provide urgent housing advice, which avoided this happening … At the end of the programme, Jane completed an ‘I am Proud’ board which allowed her to reflect on the journey. These are her words: I am PROUD to be Alive … I am PROUD I notice Fake People in my Circle … I am PROUD NO ONE can Keep Me Down”—
I particularly like that one—
The report also makes a shorter reference to a programme of one-to-one and group work to help young men to understand healthy relationships and what consent means. It talks about Charles, aged 15, and states:
“Charles was referred to our service due to concerns around his inappropriate touching of younger females at school. He was subject to a Child Protection Plan due to his own experiences of physical abuse. His behaviour consisted of targeting two vulnerable young women … The girls were frightened to report his behaviour as Charles was older and popular … Charles told us … ‘this programme taught me how important it is to make good decisions in your life and you will be safe all the time’”.
We will all have received a briefing from the Local Government Association. Although the detail it gives is powerful, I doubt that any of us needed persuading on the important role of local authorities and the issue of funding. That is always topical, particularly in the context of today’s economic reports; somebody said that we should have read the previous debate on school funding into this debate. The LGA makes the point, as always, on the need for long-term funding commitments. I add to that the trickle-down effect on NGOs and charities working in these fields. So many chief executives have to spend so much time on cash flows and grant applications. To follow the point from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, there can be competition among them, rather than co-ordination.
The Minister would not expect uncritical endorsement —and I will not give it—but I want to end on a hopeful and positive note: a 19 year-old’s take on the serious violence strategy. She wrote that,
“early intervention education is key, especially for those who fit into a high-risk category, as young brains are easier to adapt and educate, both positively and negatively … I feel assured that the ideas and funding”,
in the serious violence strategy,
“that have been proposed … are not going to be closed away into a document with the hope that violent crime incidents will become a thing of the past … It is settling for myself as a young person to see a strategy that will be actively applied in order to promote a less violent future”.
Let us not fail her.