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
My Lords, when I put my name down for this debate I had a series of points that I was going to raise, most of which, of course, have been covered. The basic premise, though, from reading all the information is that the spike in knife crime—let us hope it is a spike, as opposed to an upward trend—merely ties into what has happened before. The profile of the offender is almost exactly the same as it has always been. The first common denominator is that they are out of school by the age of 14. That is the one that has always been there. Anybody who has worked in prisons has discovered incredibly low levels of educational attainment and a fear of authority. Only while working in a youth offender unit have I been threatened and grovelled to in the same sentence. These people are difficult to reach.
One of the contributing factors is clearly the fact that, in our current education system, it has become okay to get rid of your failing pupils: off-rolled, excluded, you name it, you get rid of them because of the way we are going. The Minister looks shocked. I did not say that the Government had done it; it is something schools have to do to preserve their status. The argument of losing your academy status has clearly had an effect here. There can be no real argument with that. There is something there: you are going to punish a school or change its status if it gets bad results. If you have pupils who will not get their five “C”s or whatever it is now—I think it will be five “4”s in the exam system my daughter will present to me in August—and there is a punishment, the perverse incentive is absolutely there. Very good schools will resist it, but it will still be there.
Of course people have always excluded themselves from school and there have always been people who did not like it. Schools do not want them there and say, “Just go away”. It has always happened, but it is becoming more prevalent and exclusions are rife. We have this lovely growth that can be exploited for criminal or social reasons. If I remember correctly, my noble friend Lord Dholakia said that fashion and fear lead to people carrying these blades. It has always been there, but it is now more common.
We have this horrible situation where something has become more prevalent and more exploited, then gangs move in to exploit it for a criminal activity. Drugs have mainly been spoken about, but there will be other areas of activity as well. So what we do to try to get out of it? One of the things civil society can do is encourage people who are very good at reaching these groups. Sport is one of them. It sounds a little like you are going to say, “Oh, if everybody played jolly good sport and had a cold shower afterwards, everything would be fine”. Having had the cold shower, believe me, it does not help you turn up next time. But all sports have a cohesive effect. They have an objective and discipline.
Bizarrely, from certain attitudes taken by the Government, boxing and martial arts are the best for reaching this group. They just are. Learning how not to get punched in the nose is a great way to make sure that you are less likely to get involved in violence. You have a community, a group and a reason to stay fit. If you are staying fit you are not hanging around drinking and taking drugs on street corners. If you do, when you go to the gym you will get hit. There we are: a great incentive for you.
Since we have this there, what are we doing to encourage it? We could bring boxing into prisons, but apparently we do not like that because it encourages violence. Possibly somebody should have a look at that at some point, but martial arts are a very good way in. Other sports, such as basketball and other good urban sports, will have opportunities as well, but the lead one seems to be boxing. Are we going to encourage these groups to integrate with the rest of society? There is a very good organisation called Fight For Peace. Its centre in the London Docklands, which I saw, grew out of the activities of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Since boxing is acceptable there it could cross gang lines. If noble Lords want to look at real problems when you get this wrong, they should look there. It is not a couple of people with knives; it is people with automatics and spare clips of ammunition on street corners and the police go in in armoured cars. We should bear in mind that it can get worse.
What are we doing to help groups such as this encourage into their gyms and training sessions social workers and people in careers support to make sure that these people can re-engage? We have a way in. All sports have it; boxing might have the best one. Anything that will build on what we are doing out there will work, because what they are saying is, “Re-engage with society”. The people who these young people respect, who are not the establishment or the teacher who failed them, should be the ones to come in and say, “You can succeed”. Bring in people who have the same accent as them to tell them, “You can succeed”, and to help. That is a way forward.
What are we doing to encourage these groups to have easy access to what the state can do to support and help them? This is a real question. We do it in small pockets and say, “Wonderful, isn’t it great?”, and then leave and do not change the rest of our activity. Ministers will have to lead this because they will always be punching through the Chinese walls of, “That’s not my budget”, or, “I don’t get the credit for it”. Everybody in Parliament can give a 10-minute speech on that any day of the week. What will the Government do to make sure good community projects can become part of this public health solution, which seems to be the only one we have identified? What are we do to make sure it happens? If we are not going to embrace this, we will probably end up losing out on one of our quick wins.