We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
As my noble friend Lord Paddick said in opening this debate, there are many facets to the horrors and challenges of knife crime. One of these is that there is an established link between the very large cuts to local government funding and the increase in knife crime. At this point I remind the House of my relevant interests as a local councillor and vice-president of the Local Government Association.
In February this year a group of major children’s charities—Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau—produced a joint report containing a new analysis of the research they had done on local funding per child. They found that the funding available to local councils per child has dropped by as much as 52% in real terms. Furthermore, the report stated the view of youth and social workers that the dramatic cuts were inextricably linked to a rise in youth knife crime and the criminal exploitation of children by county lines gangs.
The Local Government Association figures paint a similar picture. The LGA statistics show that more than 600 youth centres closed and nearly 139,000 youth service places were lost between 2012 and 2016 alone. Councils were forced to cut spending on local youth services by 52%, from £652 million in 2010-11 to £352 million in 2017-18 as a direct result of government cuts to local government funding.
The sad fact is that the statistics also demonstrate that early intervention by youth services and youth offending teams—I am surprised that no one has mentioned them so far today in the debate—can and does significantly reduce the number of young people who become involved in criminal activity and knife crime in particular. Youth services design targeted approaches so that those young people who are more likely to be enticed into, for instance, knife crime are diverted from it. Youth offending teams both divert young people from criminal activity that may lead to knife crime and provide support that steers young people away from further involvement in illegal and possibly violent activity.
The Action for Children report quoted a youth worker whose role currently is to support victims of stabbing in an A&E in London. He said:
“Young people and their families are not getting the support they need and things are reaching crisis point. Dealing with the issues at A&E is too late”.
There are consequences to severe cuts in local services and local communities and families are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. Preventative services, such as youth services, are a vital element in keeping individuals and communities safe.
One of the key recommendations of the report by the APPG on Knife Crime is that, as part of the public health approach, the Government should use this autumn’s expected spending review to provide a considerable increase in funding to youth services so that they can provide safe spaces and access to the support that some young people need. What is so frustrating is that this pattern of large cuts in youth services leading to a rise in young people involved in crime is entirely predictable: it has happened before; the link is known. That makes the continued cuts to local youth services as a consequence of government funding decisions even more to be reprimanded.
The Government have at least responded, in a piecemeal way, to the knife crime crisis by providing additional funding to police services. In West Yorkshire, ad hoc funding has enabled early intervention and prevention work with young people, schools and communities to tackle knife crime. Disappointingly, the funding is a one-off and therefore there is no sustainability either in the funding or the prevention work. It is as if the Government see a horrific problem and throw some one-off funding at it in order to reduce critical media headlines. What they should and must do is provide continuing year-on-year funding to local government to provide the intervention and prevention work that will turn lives around, keep young people safe, remove the trauma of violent knife crime from a community and enable young people to turn away from knives. The win for the Government is that this approach costs the public purse less in the long run. It is a win-win. The only thing that is surprising is that it is taking the Government so long to accept that this change is absolutely essential.