I beg to move,
That this House
has considered tackling knife crime.
It is always a pleasure to serve when you are in the Chair, Ms Buck. First of all, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing a debate about this hugely important issue. In particular, I thank its Chair—my hon. Friend Ian Mearns—as well as the other members of the Committee and its Clerk, Sarah Hartwell-Naguib, who has been extremely helpful in assisting me to put together this debate.
The main spring for the debate was, very sadly, the murder of 14-year-old Jaden Moodie just over two weeks ago. The attack took place in the constituency of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, albeit right on its boundary with my constituency of Leyton and Wanstead. The family live in Walthamstow. Both of my Waltham Forest neighbours—my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and Mr Duncan Smith—will speak later in the debate.
To many people, that appalling incident in Leyton two weeks ago was a new low in a wave of violent crime that has been sweeping across and beyond London, because we are dealing with county lines and all sorts of other related issues. That wave of violent crime seemed to start some months ago and it has not abated; there is no sign that this knife and gun crime is going to disappear, and we have become quite used to it.
Before I continue, I would like apologise on behalf of two hon. Members who supported my application for this debate, but who unfortunately cannot be here today. Over the past few months, my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker has, week in, week out, during business questions and Home Office questions, raised concerns about problems in his constituency. I also apologise on behalf of Norman Lamb, who chairs the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which recently completed a report on adverse childhood experiences. It covered trauma, abuse, neglect and so on, and found a clear correlation between those experiences, school exclusion and mental health problems. It also found that early intervention—on which the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has done a great deal of work—is vital, and many other reports have come to the same conclusion.
To some extent, we have become inured to the violence on our streets. It is certainly happening across east London, but it is also happening elsewhere in the country. Every week there seem to be more news stories about stabbings, gun crime and related activities. However, what happened a couple of weeks ago seems to an awful lot of people to be a new low. To some extent—I am not talking about specific cases, but speaking in generalities—there have been profound shifts in society and profound changes in the way in which society is structured and how people live. A lot of those profound changes underlie what we have seen over the past few months or the past year. Structures that used to provide security and safety, particularly for children, have been undermined and in some cases have completely disappeared.
I have met and dealt with many youngsters who come from profoundly chaotic backgrounds and have become involved in gangs, partly because doing so provides them with some sort of security. To give a couple of examples—I cannot give too many, because I am talking about people in my constituency and they might be identified—a few months ago I remember meeting a 14-year-old whose father was in prison and whose mother had just disappeared. He was living by himself in a council flat and having to look after himself at the age of 14. A person does not stand much of a chance in those circumstances. I can remember another, slightly older but not much older, who was living in a bail hostel 20 miles from Waltham Forest and whose exclusion order meant that he could not go to Waltham Forest. I am not commenting on the rights and wrongs of what he had done—which I am familiar with but do not want to talk about—but those two cases give a sense of the gravity of the situation and the shifts we are dealing with.
There is no magic wand for youngsters in that position; there is no magic bullet that will sort it all out and make their lives so much more secure, happier and safer. However, we cannot just throw up our hands and say, “It is all far too complicated. It is all far too profound and difficult, and there is nothing we can do about it.” To even start to tackle these issues, we need to start to talk about resources, because at the moment they are simply not there to cope with the consequences—I am talking to an extent about consequences, rather than the root cause.
I will come on to the root cause in a little while, but we certainly need early intervention. We need the resources to tackle both the causes and the consequences, and the stark reality is that the resources are not there. Both Waltham Forest and Redbridge—I cover six wards in Waltham Forest and two and one third in Redbridge—have faced huge cuts in the numbers of police officers. The exact numbers are not clear, but there have certainly been profound and extensive cuts in the numbers of officers.
Police stations have also been closed. When I was elected MP for Leyton and Wanstead nearly nine years ago, there were three police stations in my constituency. Now, there are none. Every single one has closed. Wanstead police station was one of the oldest in London, and while this is slightly beside the point of the debate, its closure seems to have led to a very sharp rise in burglaries in my constituency, particularly aggravated burglaries. It seems like common sense that if a police unit has to come from Ilford—which is quite a long way away—rather than Wanstead itself, burglars are going to work out that that is the case. We have therefore seen a rise in aggravated burglary rates in Romford, with associated violence in many cases.
Waltham Forest has one of the highest rates of serious youth violence in London. To give one example, in 2017-18 the rate for serious youth violence leading to injury was 9.9 per thousand of the population. That is 18% above the London average, and with a clear upward trend over not just the past year or two, but year after year.
As an aside, it is a historical quirk that Waltham Forest has been categorised as an outer London borough. The reality is that we are dealing with virtually all of the serious problems experienced by inner London boroughs, but because of the strange decision made in 1964—the year I was born, so it is going back a while; well, not that far, but Members know what I mean—we are regarded as an outer London borough. I have always thought that the judgment made all those years ago was perverse. If Waltham Forest were categorised as an inner London borough, there would at least be some further resources available for police and other agencies.
In the 12 months to July 2018, Waltham Forest experienced the sixth highest volume of knife crime resulting in injuries—not knife crime per se, but knife crime leading to serious injury—to young people in London. At the same time, there seems to have been a rise in the number of schoolchildren, including those as young as year 6, getting involved in gang activity. Again, those are all upward trends; it is not that there has been a levelling off or that the numbers have been going up over just the past year or two. Year after year, there has been an upward trend in involvement in gang activity and in knife crime and related activities.
For some time, Waltham Forest Council has run a widely praised anti-gang strategy and a violence reduction unit, but that council has lost well over £100 million in central Government funding over the past few years. Redbridge has lost a similar sum, so across both boroughs, perhaps £250 million in central Government funding has been lost. The local police and council, among other agencies, are working together, as we are regularly and rightly told to do by Ministers. I am keen to praise those police officers, social workers, volunteers and many others who work long and hard to prevent violent crime and to tackle its consequences.
To address those fundamental issues against a background of a huge loss of resources places those agencies, volunteers, officers and social workers in an impossible position. Sometimes it is an actively dangerous position. That is why it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit social workers, particularly for youth services. The physical danger is obvious. They have had a pay freeze and they have not got the support, so it is no wonder that they are not joining the service. Between 2011 and 2017, Waltham Forest’s youth service budget suffered cuts amounting to 67%. We have reached a stage where we have hardly any youth social workers left in Waltham Forest, which is one of the biggest boroughs in London in terms of square footage or acreage. We have a youth service today that has been decimated by the cuts.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, who is making a powerful speech. In Nottingham, we face a similar situation to the one he faces in London. He mentioned my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker. Resources for youth services are crucial for diversionary activities for, let us face it, young boys in particular, so that they can go into positive, productive activities—music, sport and so forth—that absorb their energies and take their attention away from perhaps less productive activities. He is absolutely making the right point. I hope he will extract some change in policy from the Minister.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are talking about prevention rather than cure, and it is always better to engage in a policy of prevention. I will say one thing that slightly contradicts what he said, which is that, increasingly, girls are getting involved in gang activity. At one time it was very much male-dominated. To some extent that is still the case, but there are increasing numbers of female gang members getting involved in related criminal activity. We are certainly seeing that across east London, at least.
As well as youth services being cut to the bone in Waltham Forest, mental health services are also being cut. Many Ministers have said over the years that mental health services have been seen as a poor relation in the national health service, and that has to change. There is little sign of that changing when mental health facilities are closing on a regular basis, including in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, when budgets are being squeezed and when posts are being left open. We are talking about prevention, rather than cure, and mental health services are doing that right on the frontline. It is better to start there, rather than tackling the consequences when things have gone completely wrong.
It is worth mentioning some of the Mayor’s initiatives, including the London-wide violent crime taskforce, the Young Londoners Fund and increased investment in the London gang exit service. The Young Londoners Fund is £45 million, which sounds like a large amount of money—actually, it is—but that is spread across one of the biggest cities on the planet. It does not go very far per borough, despite the best efforts of the Assembly and the Mayor. City Hall has a London-wide programme to provide knife wands to every school, but, again, that deals only with the consequences. When we get to a stage where we are using knife wands in schools, including primary schools, we are in a pretty desperate area. We have to deal with the causes, not use knife wands, which are hardly a magic bullet in anyone’s analysis.
We desperately need joined-up policy approaches and joined-up working between the various agencies. Ministers regularly and rightly talk about that, but we also need a properly resourced range of agencies. It is not just about the police; there are the local authorities and the voluntary services, many of whose budgets are being cut or have even disappeared. People are working increasingly long and hard to prevent the sort of problems under discussion. I will mention for a second time the efforts of social workers, police officers and others who put in a tremendous effort to try to make our society better, but it is an uphill battle because they do not have the resources anymore, given the profound cuts.
We are getting to the stage where there needs to be an inquiry into youth crime and related activities. Perhaps that should be a Select Committee inquiry, but we have had those in the past. My hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft is leading a violent crime inquiry led, but I wonder whether we could have an inquiry under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992. Such an inquiry could subpoena people and force them to appear as witnesses, which Select Committee and other bodies are unable to do. A public inquiry could also listen to young people on the receiving end of criminal activity, the attentions of gangs and all the other related issues. In Select Committees, it is more difficult to hear the reality of what is going on out there. A public inquiry could listen to the voices of young people, as we heard to some extent on last night’s BBC programme, but we need a proper inquiry that will come to conclusions and be conducted by someone who understands the causes and consequences of what we are dealing with—that wave of crime sweeping across London.
As my hon. Friend Mr Leslie said, the wave is also sweeping across other parts of the country. The midlands, the north, the south-east, Essex and Kent are all affected by the issue. County lines are reaching out further and further, and they are causing mayhem, often in areas that do not have a history of that kind of criminal activity. I would like a public inquiry, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response.
I had not expected to be called so early, Ms Buck, so I have rather been taken by surprise. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am grateful to John Cryer for securing this important and timely debate. He is my predecessor as MP for Hornchurch, so he will no doubt share my concern that the London Borough of Havering, while still a low-crime borough, has seen a worrying rise in gang activity, particularly focused around the economic hub of Romford. We have regrettably seen the use of knives in a number of recent incidents.
While my constituency has not experienced the same level of gang activity, when a crime involving a knife takes place it sends shockwaves through the community. One phenomenon we have recently experienced is young people from neighbouring boroughs using the transport system to come into economic hubs such as Upminster and Hornchurch to intimidate shopkeepers with threats of weapons and to mug schoolchildren, who often might be carrying a parent’s credit card, or using or wearing expensive technology or clothing.
My constituents rightly ask whether the police have enough funding, and that undoubtedly must be a priority area for Government going forward. Thankfully, that has been recognised. Following meetings before Christmas with the Home Secretary and Prime Minister, I was pleased to see that the funding available to police and crime commissioners will be increased by up to £813 million. That is the biggest annual increase since 2010; it protects the Met’s grant funding in real terms and gives the Mayor the chance to raise an additional £81 million if he deems it necessary. That means that the Met will see a total increase in funding of up to £172 million next year. I very much hope that some of that can be dedicated to a more visible policing operation and to looking at previously successful operations with knife arches and amnesties.
Money needs to be concentrated not just on an increased police presence on our streets, but on analysts and detectives who can look at crime trends and build strong cases against criminals higher up the food chain. I was interested to read some of the reports last year from the National Crime Agency, which attributed some of the increase in street violence to the tightening grip of Albanian crime gangs on the UK’s cocaine market. By forming direct relationships with producers and linking with existing UK gangs, Albanian crime gangs have been able to lower the cost of cocaine, making it more affordable for smaller, younger street gangs to get involved in drug dealing. The lure of easy money and a sense of disenfranchisement from mainstream society regrettably mean that a ready supply of teenagers have been willing to act as drug runners. Vicious disputes and rivalries between such gangs, often ramped up on social media, have led to the completely needless deaths of children.
We must therefore focus on cracking down on other parts of the crime chain, while pulling vulnerable young people in a more positive direction. It has been noted today, and by crime analysts, that many of the young people we are losing to knife crime were not attending school. I very much welcome Ofsted’s focus on school exclusions as a performance measure going forward, but, as has been noted, pressures on other services have led to gaps through which vulnerable young people are falling.
Last year, I met Sally Miller, a councillor in Elm Park who acts as an appropriate adult for young people involved in crime. That has led her to witness countless interviews between the police and young people who have been arrested for carrying a blade. One of her consistent observations is how little those young people fear being referred to youth offending teams.
Havering appears to have a well-performing youth offending team with good outcomes, but in this context good outcomes means a 33% reoffending rate, compared with a national average of 42%. A third of young people reoffending in our borough is still too high. A tendency to reoffend is much more common in complex cases where children have grown up in households in which violence is commonplace, school is seen as optional, and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is the norm.
When I wrote to the Ministry of Justice about youth offending teams, it was suggested to me that, when sentencing children, we ought to look at not only deterrence but the child’s welfare and the aim of preventing reoffending. That is where the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead raised many valid points about gaps in local authority services and social services.
The most intensive of the community sentences used by youth offending teams is a youth rehabilitation order. That can include up to 18 requirements, including electronic monitoring and curfew, unpaid work, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, and education. Such interventions require the system to be firing on many cylinders.
I was pleased to see the Education Secretary dedicate more funding recently to special educational needs, which can affect many of the young people involved in this kind of crime. I also commend the work of the third sector in trying to encourage young people away from crime. Tomorrow I will attend an assembly about Harold Hill by the charity You and Me to see how it equips young people with the confidence to step away from negative spirals of activity.
Will the Minister let us know whether police resources are being kept under review, in spite of the increases to which I referred? I am also keen to hear about progress in the National Crime Agency on cracking down on international drug dealers, including whether there have been any deportations and whether the NCA is working in-country with international police forces to crack down on international crime operations.
Finally, I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on whether she feels her own work on serious violence is in any way being undermined by gaps in other interventions, whether that be social care pressures, strain on addiction services or gaps within schools, and on what work she may be doing with social media companies and Ofsted to address some of the social pressures that young people are under.
It is always a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck.
As hon. Members may know, between January 2017 and March last year, nine young people in my constituency were murdered, mostly by knives. Since last March, we have been incredibly fortunate that no more children have died, but I have to say that that is a really strange thing to feel thankful for. The reprieve is making it possible for my community to begin to heal, and I can only pray that that lull in violence continues.
Healing is hard—not just for families, friends and witnesses, who are so devastated and traumatised by what they have seen, but for communities. In Forest Gate, children were taken away again and again. It was horribly traumatic. There was palpable fear and a feeling of shock on the streets. I would walk into a shop, and all people would talk to me about was what had happened last week, last month and the month before. They wanted to know what we were doing about it.
Last September, I gave a speech in which I made seven asks of Government. One was for a rapid and professional mental health response to be available for communities in the wake of tragedies and trauma, such as the murder of a child. With mental health services so overstretched in most areas—especially child and adolescent mental health services—that support is often not there. Even as I held in my arms a young man who was sobbing because he had held a dying friend, I knew that he was not going to get the support that he needed at the time that he needed it, and nor were his friends.
On that, I am glad to say that the Government have responded and engaged with me positively. I recently met the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jackie Doyle-Price, who listened, as she does, with sympathy. I am working with the East London NHS Foundation Trust and other leading mental health bodies to try to find a model that will be effective, and I hope that we will look at piloting services soon.
My community has been calmer, but do not be deceived. The drivers of the violence have not gone away—far from it. The second of my seven asks was for the police and the courts to focus on those who are driving much of the violence for profit by grooming and exploiting children as cheap and disposable labour in the quest to sell drugs across the county lines. I am grateful that the Minister for Security has engaged with me on that, and I am expecting a confidential update on progress from the National Crime Agency soon—I hope this speech will prompt the Government to make that very soon.
I have five other asks as well. We need to safeguard children and build their resilience against grooming, so my third ask is for investment in children’s social workers and youth workers. As my hon. Friend John Cryer said, that has been decimated, and we have been reaping the disbenefits since. My fourth ask is that there is proper training and support so that everyone, from social workers to police officers, teachers and parents, can recognise the signs of gang exploitation and know how to respond.
Fifthly, we need new and trusted ways for young people to report what they know. I do not think that Crimestoppers is working. Many people in my constituency have told me that if they call it, the police will pop round, putting them in danger. We need to find a new, effective, third way of reporting, so that young people can have confidence when they pass on confidential information to the police.
Sixthly, we need far better systems to keep people safe after they have done the bravest thing and given essential evidence to the police or in court. In September, I told the House about one horrifying case of a father and son who had to leave home because they were in great danger, and about the appalling way in which they were abandoned thereafter by the system. They had no money at all—the father had to leave his job. Social services had not picked it up, and the police had not followed through on the support. We need to ensure that if people do the right thing, we do the right thing by them. Big changes are needed, such as a national system of dedicated caseworkers to support witnesses who are genuinely in danger. I have not heard anything to convince me otherwise. Young witnesses and their families should have a bright and secure future, not punishment for what they have done for us.
Seventhly, we need stronger action against incitement online. I hope that the online harms White Paper will do that job and tighten up regulation, because content that harms our communities is still being put online and staying online. In my speech in September I talked about a drill music video that clearly celebrated and encouraged violence in my community. It was celebrating the murder of a 14-year-old child in a playground in Forest Gate.
The original version had more than 1 million views on YouTube. It was taken down, but copies have gone up in its place, with pointless disclaimers on the front that should not protect the videos from action, but apparently do. By September, the copy version had received 120,000 views. Five months later, it is still up, and the view count is pushing 300,000, so, frankly, the greater calm in my constituency is no thanks to YouTube.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead for his efforts to secure this debate, for his passion for the issue, and for the opportunity to press the Government again for the action that is needed to protect the vulnerable in my community.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer—I know that I am not meant to call him that, but he is genuinely a friend—on securing this debate. He, our colleague Stella Creasy and I have discussed how to deal with knife crime, which is a problem nationally, a problem in London and a particular problem in the borough that the three of us represent. I will take each aspect of the problem in order.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the debate. The issue of knife crime tends to be shovelled away because the media too often see it as a spat between members of different gangs; it only ever breaks the surface when somebody they cannot pigeonhole is abused or murdered, as in the terrible event that happened recently in the hon. Lady’s constituency. I pay tribute to the victim’s family for their behaviour and their demeanour—our hearts go out to them. Yet somehow the media’s game always seems to be, “As long as it is not people we think are important, it is acceptable.” I will cite some figures later to suggest why that is the case.
Violent crime is increasing, not just in London but across the country. It exacts a terrible toll on our most disadvantaged and impoverished communities. The London murder rate has reached the highest level for a decade, with stabbings and shootings often linked to gangs and the supply of drugs. People often say that a lot of it is not related to the gangs, but even when the gangs are not directly involved, the gang culture on our streets has a massive effect on young people’s behaviour, even if only defensively. Many who are not involved in the gangs end up being bullied or coerced for not wanting to be part of the process, and sometimes they succumb and find themselves trapped. The gang culture is sapping away at some of the best of our young people; they are exchanging their future prospects in return for short-term gain, or what appears to be gain.
In London alone, more than 25,000 incidents of serious violence were recorded across the 32 boroughs in the 12 months to the end of June 2018. Most of those incidents were completely unreported to the general public, except maybe in the local area. In my borough, Waltham Forest, the number of knife crime offences was 27.34% higher than in the previous year. This is a growing problem. Intriguingly for the three of us who represent the borough, the increase in knife crime in Waltham Forest is significantly greater than in the Metropolitan police’s service area as a whole. We have a local problem, a city-wide problem and a national problem.
Violence against the person has been on an upward trajectory in the borough for several years. Since 2010, there have been an average of 525 violent crimes per month, but there has been only one month since April 2015 with fewer than that. That is a shocking statistic that tells us what a daily event knife crime is. I saw that at first hand when I went out recently with a police patrol—I am sure many other hon. Members present have done the same. It was on a Friday afternoon, not a Friday night; everyone assumes that things are all right in the afternoon, but in the space of three and half hours we attended one shooting, two stabbings and a knife threat to a family.
The police said, “This is not prime time—it will really kick off after you’ve gone.” That tells us just about everything we need to know. We went at speed up and down the borough—from one end of my constituency to the bottom of the constituency of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead. I swear to God: it was an eye-opener. I did not think my eyes needed opening, but I was wide-eyed by the time we had finished.
Commentators too often say that London is a city of 8 million, with 19 million annual visitors, so the level of violence is a problem but not a crisis. I have read articles that say, “Yes, we are awfully fussed about this, but it is contained.” That is shocking. Tell that to the families whose children have been damaged or murdered, or to the communities that have been blighted.
It all comes back to the point about culture, because the gang culture blights whole areas. Shops do not open in areas where the gangs operate significantly, because they come under threat. Kids who go there come under threat, too, so the streets become less occupied and people are more worried about going there. There are families whose children are being bullied and are frightened to go out, because they know that they will meet a gang member who will tell them that unless they get involved, something will happen to their families. People disappear from public spaces, and parts of our city end up deserted by decent people because they are frightened and worried. Even if they have not seen anything, hearsay tells them that things are going on in their area.
The point of challenging knife crime is not just that we are worried about violence and crime, but that we are worried about our communities not thriving as they could—their economies are bad, jobs are going and all the rest of it. We need to see the issue in a wider context, because it is about the health of a city.
A decade ago, the Centre for Social Justice, an independent organisation that I am part of, set up a programme to investigate what was going on in cities and look at what had gone right elsewhere. Its report, “Dying to Belong”, was about the nature of the people who end up locked into gangs. We commissioned its authors to look at cities that have had the problem, possibly for longer than London: they went to America and looked at Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Boston and even New York, and then they came back and looked at Glasgow and Liverpool. The Glasgow experience was particularly interesting, and so was the Matrix project in Liverpool; it was perhaps not as comprehensive as the Glasgow model, but it had some similar and very interesting outcomes.
What came across constantly from those visits was that the cities that have successfully controlled their levels of gang activity, and thus violence and violent crime, have all used a two-pronged process. First, policing needs to be absolutely and conclusively co-ordinated with the local area. I accept that the word “consent” is bandied around, but it is more a case of co-operation, understanding, shared intelligence and a sense of where and who to police.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the loss of neighbourhood policing has had a major impact on the situation he describes? The sense of communities working with the police has been shattered.
Yes—I will come on to that point. It is about intelligence on the streets, both for the communities and the police, and the operational matter of how to target policing.
What came across from Boston and Cincinnati was particularly interesting. Their gangs were very similar to London’s: they tended to be multi-racial in the sense that, unlike in Los Angeles, they were postcode gangs drawn from whoever lived in the community and reflecting the balance of people in the community. In Boston, Operation Ceasefire led to a 63% reduction in youth homicides. The level of violence is different in American cities, mostly because of firearms, but the overall suppression as a result of the operation is staggering. The figures have continued to reduce and have remained low because it is a permanent process. It is not about the police arriving in a borough, targeting people for nine months and then going somewhere else; it is constant, perpetual and part of the community.
The interesting point about the findings and the recommendations of that report is that, too often, we just focus on one or the other. I want to come to the comment made by Meg Hillier. Since the report was published, too little of it has been implemented around the UK. There was lots of talk. I talked at length at that time to the Labour Government—it was published under the last Labour Government. There was lots of interest in wanting to take it forward, but the issue comes down to the activity of the cities and the boroughs themselves—they have to want to take the decisions. There are issues for the Government, which are clearly to do with funding and organisation, but there are also issues to do with the local areas.
In the areas where they did pretty much next to nothing about the issue following the report, and carried on in the same way, some 700 young people have been fatally stabbed and shot. I believe those are 700 young people we could have saved, had we operated across the board, comprehensively. The level of co-operation, co-ordination and joint activity is a problem for London, with its 32 boroughs.
I had very interesting dealings with Waltham Forest Council at the time. It is a Labour-controlled council, and has been for some time, but the reality is that it was more important for us to work together to try to find a way through. At that time, to its credit, it implemented much of what the report was about: it brought the Glasgow people down, looked at the report and thought about how to act on it, and it set up an organisation and enhanced support in communities. For a time, the level of violent crime in the borough reduced. It was a good record, and I was proud of that. It was not my political party, but I was proud of the fact that we could get something done—it showed me that the report could work.
Since a while back, the pressure has come off and there have been other distractions, and this whole issue of where the Government funding went and how the boroughs reacted came to life. The point I want to make is that if the changes are not permanent, everything comes back. We see that now in Waltham Forest. I am not by any means attempting to be critical; I just simply make the point that this is not the first time.
The process in Glasgow that has been persistently and constantly maintained contains a number of things. The city was once dubbed the murder capital of Europe: someone below 22 years old in Glasgow was literally more likely to die by being stabbed than through a road traffic incident. That was unlike anywhere else. That is how terrible it was. The films of some of the gang violence going on in the city at the time were really concerning. As a result of the consistent activity in Glasgow, there has been a 46% fall in violent offences, a 73% fall in gang in-fighting and an 85% fall in weapon possession. They call it a health programme, because they talk about the community work at the same time, and co-operation with the health department and the intelligence that is necessary. It is not just about policing.
If it had just been about policing, there would have been a moment when they had reduced the level of crime, but that could not have been sustained forever, because there would have been no stoppage. As they said, they needed to get to the younger kids in the gangs and take them out of the gangs, into remedial work, through community groups and other groups that work to change educational outcomes and that get them re-stabilised—perhaps there is an unstable family, or a family who are threatened and need to be moved. All that has to happen at a community level and be led at the bottom, and it requires us to ask how we focus in on the necessary funding—not just across the board, but in the areas most greatly threatened by gang violence. It is perhaps time for us to ask whether specific areas and councils need a more targeted approach to support them.
Too often, that sort of process is effectively forgotten. I mentioned two cities in the UK that genuinely set about the process, but in all the rest, on all the visits I have been on, the work is patchy. As a result, we thought we needed to look at that report again. I say that as a member, as others are, of the Government’s violence taskforce, which is very helpful for presenting the case to the Government. I genuinely do think the Government are now seized of the need to resolve the situation.
The things that need to be done are not rocket science and they are not new. Although we talk about county lines and the way the drugs trade is changing and stretching out from London, in the end it all comes down to gang activity. If the young kids are able to be in the gangs, the gangs can operate. If the gangs do not have the young kids coming into them, then they die. The guys at the top of the gangs cannot operate without the runners and the young kids taking stuff from A to B, collecting the money and doing all the legwork, away from them. Those are the young people they need and they are the ones they threaten, so the community-level approach of stripping those young people out of the gangs is vital.
The police can target the top of the gangs, take them out and put them through the criminal justice system—throw the book at them—and police them on the streets and do their stop and search through intelligence-led processes. However, as the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead said earlier, the reality is about getting the young kids out. It is about them leaving the gangs and taking them out. It is not even early intervention—it is after the event. Even when they have gone into the gangs, we have to bring them out, take them away and get them through other work. Where that is done, as it has been seen and done in those cities, almost immediately the gangs begin to fold in on themselves. It does not matter who is running them—it does not matter if we are talking about the Mali Boys or whoever—the truth is that, at the end of the day, the top guys in these gangs do not operate if they do not have the young kids running and doing the work for them. If we can get to them, it strengthens the policing activity.
We cannot police our way out of this. We need organisations such as those I visited in south London, such as XLP and London Gang Exit, or Gangs Unite up in our area, Key4Life and Growing Against Violence. There are lots and lots of groups who do fantastic work in changing the nature of what goes on.
I have a very simple message. All the patterns and strands of work—from aggressive but targeted policing, through community work and the council working together, all rely on something very important. This is the last strand of what I was talking about, and it is in the book we published.
It is absolutely vital that all the Government agencies and local government agencies sign up to working closely together. Too often in the past, that has not happened with some Government Departments. I say this regretfully, but having talked to the areas that have addressed this issue, I think the most difficult Department to get involved in the giving of intelligence is the Department of Health and Social Care. It holds its intelligence very carefully and worries about it going out. In many households, the health visitor is the first person they will have in and the very last person they will eventually chuck out if they are worried about life. Health visitors hold a wealth of information about the problems of certain families. We need to find a way to use that intelligence.
We talk about early intervention. There are a wealth of signposts when it comes to kids who are excluded from school or playing truant, or families who we know are dysfunctional or already have problems or criminal activity in them. When I went to visit the programmes up in Glasgow, they pointed out to me that too often the courts are simply unaware of the kind of street that they are about to place the kids back into, or the worries about the families. More than that, they talked about why young people in certain areas will not travel to work and take jobs: if the normal map is overlaid with the gangs map, it is immediately obvious why. The young people will not cross the gang areas because they are frightened about crossing, being seen and getting caught.
Cross-party, throughout the Government and local authorities, and through community groups, we have to make a real pledge that we are not going to let this problem go on any longer—that in my borough and others, we will now work together. If money is required for funding, we must find it and make sure it is targeted. We cannot make political capital out of this issue. We have a duty to ensure that the next generation that comes through are not blighted by the times of the last.
We could not have had a better Chair for today’s debate, Ms Buck, given your expertise and experience on this subject, so it is wonderful to serve under your chairmanship.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend John Cryer for all his hard work in getting this debate from the Backbench Business Committee, and to my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, who I know is sad he cannot be here today, but, first and foremost, I pay tribute to the family of Jaden Moodie, who are with us today. They have shown incredible courage and strength at such a difficult time by being here and being so determined about the future.
I want to start by saying that we sometimes look at this through the wrong end of the telescope. We talk about the violence, but I want to start by talking about the person, by talking about Jaden and his family, who have told me about his smile, his laughter and his ambition to take up motorcycling, work in a garage and be a young man who would have a business that would thrive in our local community. When we talk about these young people, we must talk about what we have lost as a society, about the contribution they could have made to our communities and country, and about why this is, frankly, a national crisis.
Jaden’s is not the first story I have heard, and his is not the first family I have worked with as the MP for Walthamstow. In the last 18 months, we have buried six children in our community—children killed by other children. The others were Elijah Dornelly, Kacem Mokrane, Joseph William-Torres, who was known as Nico, Amaan Shakoor and Guled Farah. Each of their families, like Jaden’s family, is grieving for the life they have lost and for all the family celebrations where there will be one seat empty—one person they will never forget. They are now asking for our help so that no other family will go through this horror.
We know that we cannot talk about the details of Jaden’s case. That is absolutely right, but we must talk about what is happening in our communities and country. This is a national crisis, as I said. We should have this debate every week in Parliament due to the level of knife violence and the young people’s lives that we are losing. In London, there have been 15,000 attacks involving knives in the last year—a 50% increase on 2015. Five hundred children have turned up in our hospitals as victims of knife crime in the last year alone—an 86% increase in the past four years. It is an upward trend, as my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead said, and it is decimating London, in particular.
We have about 259 violent gangs in our capital city, who are responsible for almost a quarter of serious violence—17% of robberies, 50% of shootings and 14% of rapes in our communities. We know that gangs are growing, with 4,500 people in those roughly 250 recognised gangs in London. They are involved in not just drug crime, but violent crime. It is estimated that about 230 people in my borough are involved in gangs or are gang associates.
One of the things that gets lost in the way we look at these debates is the recognition that this is about not just gangs, but the people caught up in them, who live with the fear of violence—children who are not in gangs, but who are living through this time with us and who need our help. The Greater London Authority has estimated that by 2023 there will be a 15% increase in the number of children at risk from gangs in London, either as victims or offenders. That is an extra 123,000 young people aged 10 to 18 who need this not to be the only debate. They need us to talk about not just the violence we have seen, but the things that we will do to stop it ever happening again.
We know the gangs are changing. In my borough of Waltham Forest—what happened there has led to this debate—the problem was territory a few years ago. We have fantastic research on this by John Pitts: young people felt a sense of pride in being in a gang with other local people and said that that was who they were. Now, it is a commercial enterprise that is driving the toxin of drug dealing in our communities. There is a business ethos, as John Pitts calls it, and young people are being sent through county lines all around the country to make money for the elders.
The National Crime Agency found that 88% of areas now report county lines activity—a phenomenon that has grown only in the past few years. It means that what is happening in our capital city is affecting everyone in our country. And, yes, young women are involved too: 90% of those areas saw young women involved in county lines activity.
The gangs picture changes so quickly, but the young people who matter, and who are at the heart of this, do not. We think we have about 12, or possibly 13, serious gangs in Waltham Forest. Of those 12 gangs, only four were active a few years ago. The situation is changing and calls for a local response.
Some people have talked about middle-class drug users and the way they are driving the situation. It is important that we recognise, particularly in our local community in Waltham Forest, that people are trading in small amounts of drugs, which is pushing people into gangs. Some young people are being sent miles to make just £5. They are selling to everybody, and we need policing to be able to disrupt those chains of distribution. Anybody who tells you that policing does not matter is not living through this crisis. Our local community in Waltham Forest has lost 200 police in the past couple of years alone. Our police work hard to identify these young people and to work with our social workers and youth workers. Two hundred police have gone, which means there are 200 fewer people to help do that work—gathering intelligence, building the confidence of the local community, and interrupting and disrupting that behaviour.
We know it is not just about drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead talked powerfully about the importance of social work. I want to talk about the importance of schools and, as I said, to see the children behind these figures who are falling through the cracks. When we do, we see so many similar issues in the stories they tell, which is why this debate is so important. Mr Duncan Smith is right to say that this is not a new phenomenon. The gangs might be changing, but we know what works. We know how we can help and step in to support families—not to demonise them, but to recognise their value to our communities.
We know that the motivations for joining gangs and getting involved in violence are complex. Yes, poverty and racism play an important part, but it is also about schools, geographical communities and the support networks—the strong and weak ones—around our young people. We see the grooming process start early, often with children as young as 10. Frankly, sometimes the interventions that we see are just too late in that chain of process, which is why I pay tribute to my local authority for the work it is doing. It recognises that young people under 18 who are involved in this activity are being criminally exploited and that they need protection and support. I also want to put on record my thanks to Gedling Council for the work it has been doing not just to support Jaden’s family, but to recognise some of the interconnections.
I know that Members will talk about early trauma, about a public health model and about how contagious these problems are. My local authority, like the Mayor of London, recognises that our schools are struggling to cope with the early presentation of these problems. How do we help young people who might be struggling at school and who have problems in their family? We need more than warm words; we need funding, and we need to recognise what we are fighting for: not just to stop the violence, but for a future for each of those young people.
Julia Lopez mentioned exclusions, which is really what I want the Minister to comment on. Looking at the many letters that she has written to me about this issue, it feels like we look too often at what happens when violence occurs, yet we know that exclusions are a common theme in some of the stories we are talking about. Indeed, 41 pupils a day were permanently excluded last year from schools in this country. There were 19 permanent exclusions in my local authority alone, which is actually below the national average. There are 115 children in our pupil referral units, which suggests that there are many more children who need support and intervention but who are not being picked up through the process of being categorised as excluded.
The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime found that one in three local authorities has no vacancies in their pupil referral unit. Those young people are the most vulnerable. They might be a minority of the school population, but they go on to be a majority of our prison population. They are 10 times more likely to have a mental health need, 20 times more likely to be subject to social services intervention, and 100 times more likely to commit an offence of knife possession. If we work with these young people now and recognise their value, we can stop many of these problems and break some of these cycles. I also say to the Minister that, frankly, we can save money. Every excluded pupil will cost £370,000 over their lifetime in terms of extra education, benefits, healthcare and the criminal justice system. That is a total of £2.9 billion lost to the Exchequer by permanently excluding just 7,000 pupils.
The Pitts research on Waltham Forest bears out what we are talking about in terms of those young people who are vulnerable and being exploited. One professional said:
“That’s the level of ruthlessness of these gangs, they will recruit these kids and basically just use them as a piece of meat for whatever purpose they’ve got.”
“Youngers are normally easier to influence, when they are at school.”
However, the honest truth is that the Home Office’s work on violent crime—it is very commendable that the Home Office has started to look at it—is not working in schools and does not recognise that localised approach. A gang’s position in my local community will be different from a gang’s position south of the river, in south London. That work needs local people who see those young people, who see the warning signs and who see why it is worth fighting for their future.
I know the Government will talk about social media and the money they are putting in to tackling violent crime. I know they have recognised the amazing work that my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) have done on knife crime and a public health approach. However, we also want a preventive approach, as we have with healthcare. A legal duty to a public health model will mean little if there are no organisations to work with it and do the preventive work.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green talked about people who are in a desert of decent people. We in Walthamstow are a decent community; I know that not only because of the good families here with us, but because of the amazing people from the voluntary and community sectors who have come today. They, too, are committed to solving this crisis. Organisations such as Spark2life, Access Aspiration, The Soul Project, Gangs Unite, Boxing4Life, Words 4 Weapons, the Waltham Forest community hub, Break Tha Cycle, Worth Unlimited, the Ken Tuitt Football Foundation and Walthamstow Youth Circus all see that those young people need our support. They need a Government who join the dots and recognise that too many of our young people are struggling in education, are vulnerable to exploitation and are therefore vulnerable to such challenges.
Yes, I have seen the letters from the Minister, for which I thank her. We keep talking about exclusions and mental health, but we need to join up the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education. We must ensure that young people receive alternative provision, that referral units are not seen as some sort of sin bin; and that we see those young people as worthy of fighting for. Please, Minister, I do not want another child in our community to be buried because of knife crime ever again. It is preventable, and if we work together, we can stop it.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Ms Buck. I know that if you were not chairing it, you would be contributing to the debate with a great deal of expertise. I congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer on securing this important debate. In his speech, he talked about the need to deal with the causes and reasons young people become involved in crime.
Those causes are manifold. In London, we live in a city of enormous wealth. In fact, the wealthiest 10% of its population own half of the wealth. The disparity in income and wealth distribution in London is very stark indeed. All of our communities, including in my constituency, have examples of shiny new developments that have received enormous amounts of investment, but precious little is reinvested in the surrounding local communities.
Too often, that investment is done to the community rather than with it. That leads to people feeling that they are not part of the enormous growth in the wealth of our city, but that they are excluded from it. More importantly, they feel that they do not have the same—or, indeed, any—opportunities to engage in and enjoy the distribution and benefits of the wealth that they see all around them. That feeds into people’s lack of aspiration and determination to improve their life prospects through, for example, education. That despair and lack of aspiration feed into sections of our community. Not everyone is affected—we are talking about a minority of people—but none the less, it creates an area where those who want to engage in crime can not only prosper, but entice others to join them.
What do we see? Increasingly, in parts of our communities working-class kids are attacking—and, too often, killing—one another. If we pour into that the now nine years of austerity—which means that the services supporting those communities have struggled to cope and keep going—we get a perfect storm in which those sorts of criminal activities can prosper. That is the background that we have to deal with.
We must recognise that those communities are being left behind. A lot of research suggests that they voted heavily to leave the European Union. There were many contributing factors. People felt such despair and so disconnected from the economic prosperity around them that they decided to vote that way. We have to address the root causes of why too many of our young people become involved in crime.
I will not make political points, but we have seen a significant reduction in the number of police officers. As those numbers have gone down, particularly in neighbourhood policing, we have seen an increase in knife crime and violent crime in our communities. My own borough has lost 168 officers since 2010, and roughly 70 of those were from our safer neighbourhoods team. Those teams were not just involved in arresting people and investigating crime, but embedded in their local communities and involved in a great deal of diversionary activities that got young people away from crime. It was the policy of those safer neighbourhoods teams not only to know their communities but to own the streets and make them safe for the whole community, including young people who were vulnerable to becoming involved in gangs. Those teams knew the prominent individuals who were likely to be involved in crime, and they would engage with other agencies in their local communities to divert young people away from crime.
When others are in control and people feel safe in their communities, young people in particular do not feel that the only way for them to move safely around the community is to be associated with one gang or another. Too often, the postcode approach to gangs influences young people. We have lost the community engagement, which had local community policing—one of the range of agencies mentioned by other hon. Members—at its heart.
A safer neighbourhoods team in my constituency has, sadly, been decimated and now has only two officers. I went with them to play football in the pouring rain with a gang of kids on an estate. I very much supported what the officers were doing, but I asked the police sergeant, “This is not mainstream policing—why are you doing this?” He said, “Because it’s very important that these young people see the police in a different light from when they are being stopped and searched. It’s important that they feel that we are a part of the community that they can trust and come forward to; otherwise these young people will feel vulnerable and will be more likely to fall prey to those who want them to become involved in criminal activity.”
That sort of policing has been lost. Too many of the cuts to local authorities have fallen on services that, alongside the safer neighbourhoods teams, support young people. We have to address those issues. I commend the Mayor for trying to get safer neighbourhoods teams back—sadly, we are down to two dedicated ward officers per ward in my area, where we used to have six—because that is the right approach. I am sure that that will have an impact on crime in my borough. If there is one message that I would like the Minister to take from this debate, it is this: we need to return to that effective form of community policing that works with other agencies.
My hon. Friend Stella Creasy spoke about school pupils and exclusions. I absolutely agree that, too often, young people being excluded from school begins a downward spiral of neglect by services that should provide them with support, because they are overwhelmed with demand. Too often, young people who would otherwise be in school are left to their own devices in the community for too many hours.
We must also look at the other side: what is going on in schools and what are we asking teachers to do beyond educating young people? We have to look at why those young people had to be removed from school in the first place, and question whether it is right to ask teachers—including, quite often, women—in classes to deal with extremely violent situations. When violence takes over in a school—I have seen examples of this—young people see that teachers, and perhaps even the police, are unable to deal with the situation, and that it is the troublemakers or those involved in gangs who are in control. That makes them more inclined to become involved in such activity because it makes them feel safer at school, on their way home or when they are out and about in the local community. It is not just a question of children becoming vulnerable because they are excluded; we must address a lot more of what goes on in our schools. We cannot just leave it to the schools.
In conclusion, I say to the Minister that we must start reinvesting in our community policing, because it works. We must also provide organisations in our communities, such as schools, with the support they need to assist young people so that they are not dragged into gangs and criminal activities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer on securing this incredibly important debate.
We seem to be living through a knife crime crisis. In the year ending March 2018, there were nearly 40,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument—a staggering 16% rise on the previous year and the highest rate since comparable data began to be collected in the year ending March 2011. We should all be extremely concerned about that rise, especially because it has a disproportionate impact on young people and some of the most disadvantaged in society. Various solutions to the problems have been trialled over the years, but we do not seem to be keeping pace with what is happening. We cannot let the problem overtake us, because the consequences are all too real for our communities.
Other Members have talked about what has happened in their constituencies; in mine, at the beginning of November a 15-year-old child, Jay Hughes, was stabbed to death in Bellingham. Less than 72 hours later, 22-year-old Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez was murdered in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon in Anerley. That was just one year on from the murder of teenager Michael Jonas just down the road. Following those murders I met the Home Secretary and we discussed the Government’s approach. I am really grateful for that, but those murders have shaken our community; constituents have expressed to me their fear about their family’s safety, taking their children to school and letting them be out at the local shops and on the streets.
Despite the difficult and tragic events that we have faced in Lewisham West and Penge, our community has shown strength and determination to bring the community closer. Stewart Fleming Primary School has held coffee mornings with the community, police and councillors, bringing them together to talk about how to tackle this problem locally. This Saturday, Athelney Primary School in the heart of Bellingham will hold an event with the police to bring the community together to talk about how to combat knife crime. I am proud of the resilience that our communities have shown in the face of adversity. As much as our community has worked hard to heal the wounds left by those tragedies, it cannot be left continually to pick up the pieces. The serious violence strategy sets out the Government’s response to violent crime and the increase in knife crime. There is extensive analysis in there, but my worry is that there are not sufficient concrete measures or funding for prevention.
We must be clear about the impact of austerity on the situation. Young people’s services play a key role in keeping people out of knife crime, but they have been cut to the bone. The budget for young people’s services has been cut by 60% since 2011-12, which led to the closure of youth clubs across the country. The Government’s own research shows that when there are no positive activities for young people to participate in, a vacuum is created into which gangs all too often move. We need investment in youth services and youth clubs in our communities.
Our schools play a huge role in the choices that young people make, but they too face massive financial pressures. When I visit primary schools in my community, I am told by school leaders that they can identify from the very early age of three years’ old which children are likely to be vulnerable to gangs and crime. They can identify them because they may have older siblings or family members who are involved in gangs. Schools in my constituency do a tremendous job working with those vulnerable people, but often there is a question about resources. Those schools are struggling to resource even the basics. When that happens, it is a real challenge to put time and resources into early intervention, yet it is so vital.
In London, the Met police have faced £1 billion cuts since 2010, which has led to the loss of 30% of police staff and 65% of police community support officers. Our police do an absolutely fantastic job. In particular, I pay tribute to Sergeant Dave Moss in Bellingham, and Sergeant John Biddle and PCSO Andrea in Perry Vale, who all do an amazing job in the communities. The reality in the wards I represent, however, is that we have at most two ward officers and one PCSO per ward; they do fantastic work, but they are overstretched. The big police station in Penge shut some time ago, and our small station in Penge was closed recently. That means that people do not think the police have as visible a presence as they used to have. Again, that means that people do not feel safe or that they have the same relationship with the police.
Most people in the Chamber will agree that in order to tackle knife crime we need a public health approach. I thank my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who is not here as she is performing Whip duties. She chairs the Youth Violence Commission and has campaigned tirelessly for a public health approach to youth violence. What has happened in Glasgow is a testament to how a public health approach can work to reduce knife and violent crime. That approach requires joining up health, education, youth services, the Home Office and the justice system, but the reality is that they have all been cut in recent years. If we are clear about the public health approach, it must be properly funded in order for it to work.
The warm words we have heard about a public health approach to tackling knife crime are a step in the right direction, but they are not enough. The Government need to come forward and take the lead on this issue. The austerity agenda since 2010 has left our communities and young people behind. We really need a fully funded cross-departmental public health approach to knife crime. My community cannot wait any longer.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Buck—particularly about a subject on which you have done so much good work. I thank my hon. Friend John Cryer for securing the debate and opening it so eruditely.
Sadly, we have got used to seeing horrific murders, particularly of young people, that make headlines for a day or two before being replaced by other news or another tragedy. I hope we never become inured to that and never stop regarding each one as a terrible disaster, not just for the families concerned but for our communities. Last year, there were 139 murders in London, more than half as a result of stabbings. Equally tragically, that is the tip of the iceberg, below which there is a huge volume of crime, some of which is not reported in the same way. This is not just a London problem; over the past three years in England and Wales, there have been increases of first 22% and then 16% in offences involving knives or sharp instruments, which numbered 40,147 in 2017-18.
Looking at hospital admissions, the number of “finished consultant episodes” due to contact with a knife, sword or dagger more than doubled in three years, to 12,412 in 2017-18. The Royal London Hospital has done very good work on this subject. Its statistics show that 25% of knife crime victims were of school age, the average age of victims was 18, and it was common for victims to have between five and nine stab wounds. The number of stab wounds treated in its unit has doubled since 2012.
It has become commonplace for people to carry a knife, for whatever reason or excuse that is given, yet doing so dramatically increases someone’s risk of injury; it is not a way of avoiding injury. About half of the stab victims seen at that hospital were injured by knives they took to the scene themselves; they either suffered self-inflicted wounds or had the knife taken off them and used against them. Those figures are staggering.
However, in the short time I have, I would like to look at some of the positives and possibilities. As colleagues have said, a lot of work is going on. Office for National Statistics figures published today show that in London—not in the rest of the country, sadly—the increase in violent crime and violent crime with injury has slowed. That is perhaps only the beginning of a turnaround in the problem, but it is worth noting.
I do not say it is not possible that serious knife crime will decline. Moped crime, which is often associated with violence, robbery and so on, and acid attacks have spiked but then declined in the past two or three years. It is possible that that will happen with knife crime, too, but I do not think the underlying problem will go away, because of the figures I have just cited. There will continue to be a climate of violence, which will manifest itself in one way or another. That is why the long-term approach that the Mayor of London and others have talked about is the right way forward.
[Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]
I praise the Mayor for the initiatives he has taken. City Hall has thought very seriously about the issue, and it has come up with some money. Today’s announcement of an extra £85 million of new funding for violent crime and burglary in the capital is very welcome. That comes on top of £15 million to create the violent crime taskforce and £45 million for the Young Londoners fund, which is significant in this respect but in others, too. There will now be an additional £6.8 million for the violence reduction unit. It was useful to hear the deputy Mayor talk about that yesterday. All that is good.
Obviously, just spending money is not an end in itself, but it is being spent thoughtfully. The approaches the Mayor has looked at include targeting law breakers, targeted stop and search and better detection. Obviously, we also have to look at disposals in the courts and what punishments are available, and at keeping weapons off the street by restricting the availability of knives. I might say more about that in a moment.
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he agree that in looking at the supply of knives, we need to consider the ready availability of some pretty horrendous weapons online? The Government need to look hard at what they can do to restrict access to knives through that channel.
I do not disagree—some pretty horrific things are available, and they tend to make the headlines—but the most common weapons are kitchen knives, because they are so readily available. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend about people getting around the rules online, but to be honest, carving knives, cleavers and so on are available in most kitchens. We need to think about that.
The Mayor is taking forward a number of other initiatives—other Members have spoken about them and I do not want to take up too much time—to support victims, work with communities and educate young people. I hope we all support them, and obviously we hope they are all successful, but this is a very complicated issue. YouTube and certain types of music were mentioned. The most serious recent incident in my constituency, which got a lot of national publicity because 40 people were arrested, was a horrific gang attack in which someone was pursued and stabbed on a public street on new year’s eve. Fortunately, using CCTV, the alleged perpetrators were tracked to a party and everyone at the party was arrested.
It transpired that the party venue was an Airbnb let. I am going to see Airbnb to talk about that. It tells me that it will ban that particular user and give advice to the host, but we need to go further and ensure that we do not create areas of lawlessness in the city where such things can be done. There are many steps that can be taken to control the problem, which would otherwise become out of control.
The good news is that we have a lot of sound advice and help. I have been corresponding with and meeting a retired circuit judge, Nic Madge, and with the chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, John Crichton, who did a lot of work in Scotland, which has pioneered work on this. I have also talked to trauma surgeons about it. It is a combination of detection, policing—of course—and looking at the social background, but also taking practical steps.
One issue is why there are these weapons lying around in every household, to go back to the point made by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms. Why do we need to have such a number—often a large number—of very dangerous weapons in any kitchen? Why are they pointed? Why do people need 10-inch pointed knives? Why is it not possible to sell knives that have rounded tips? Most serious injuries are caused by multiple stabbing. These are ideas that could be better explored and taken up.
The expertise is there, but there are not sufficient resources. The Mayor of London is doing everything he can; he is squeezing every possible budget dry and increasing his precept, which I think is the right thing to do in this case, to fund the campaign against knife crime. As my hon. Friend Clive Efford said, there have been large cuts, with £850 million in cuts, I think, to the Met budget and another £263 million to come. Cuts of that order cannot be made without impacting on the ability to tackle these offences. I compare it to homelessness—another issue that is hugely affecting London and other big cities. We have huge expertise in how to deal with that, and we have dealt with street homelessness quite successfully before. What we do not have at the moment is the resources to do that.
I say to the Minister that I am sure we will have a consensus today and that everybody here is sincere in wanting to see this scourge tackled, but it is going to take substantial resources. I hope we can hear something from the Government today about where those resources might be located and where they might be allocated.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer on securing the debate, which highlights the tragedy that is affecting so many of our communities, as reflected by the speeches today. I will talk about the impact on Hackney and what the Government need to do. I warn the Minister that I have some very direct requests for her to answer, hopefully today.
From November 2017 to today, there have been seven gang-related murders and three other murders in Hackney. I choose those dates because, prior to that, there was a two-year period when there had not been a gang-related death. Since October last year, there have been eight stabbings, including, most recently, that a 50-year-old man on the streets of Hackney last night.
We can quote the statistics as much as we want, but this is all about real human lives. Too many of us have had to visit families whose lives have been devastated and who will never live the same life again because of the loss of a child—their child, an actual child in their household. I have chosen not to name my constituents today; they have to live through enough pain as it is, and I am aware that there may be media scrutiny of what we say today.
I will quote from one constituent, who I spoke to recently, whose son was stabbed eight times in an ambush in Hackney on
“When he started to speak to me I felt physically sick and wanted to vomit. I told him I was feeling sick and he said it’s okay, I’ve been sick so many times since arriving here, just sit down…He told me he was ambushed and knives were coming at him from all angles. I thought that was it, he said. I didn’t even know these guys. They just ambushed me and started stabbing me.”
Her son underwent surgery to his legs, chest and arms, and both his hands will need plastic surgery, but she said:
“I’m blessed that I am a mother who can say thank God my son is alive.”
Despite that horror, that young man is alive today, but with life-changing injuries after such an horrific event. His mother went on to say:
“I have serious concerns and really don’t know where to turn for support and advice.”
I address the Minister when I say that this woman speaks for so many, whether it is youth workers, teachers, families or friends of those young people. As my hon. Friend Lyn Brown said, where do they turn to tell someone about what is going on?
After we had the riots in Hackney—a slightly separate issue from what we are discussing today—there were a good number of community events, where people talked about what had happened. I do not want to go down that route too far, but what was apparent was that people in communities know who the vulnerable children in their midst are. They know that, but they are not sure where to take that information or who can help. They are sometimes fearful of the intervention of authorities, who can come in and do things to people. We all know of case conferences where a vulnerable young person has eight or 10 adults in a room all talking about them, but not necessarily talking with them.
In Hackney, we live with the problem—sadly, all too often. The Hackney Integrated Gangs Unit works on a regular basis with 150 gang nominals at any time. A number of the factors now affecting Hackney are also affecting other boroughs, including gang youngers getting involved, sometimes because the older perpetrators are in prison. That underlines the point about early intervention that many colleagues have talked about. Many children as young as nine and 10 are getting involved; we need to get early intervention in place, and I will ask the Minister about that later.
County lines grooming has been working. There is a danger that we conflate knife crime with county lines and gangs. It is not necessarily all related, but it is like a Venn diagram, with an obvious overlap. To illustrate the effects on very young people in my constituency, I spoke to a youth worker who told me about a young boy who was about 10 years old who had been given a gun to look after by some older men. The gun went missing, and he was told he owed them £3,000. Clearly, he could not find that, and he was going around asking anybody he knew if they could lend him the money. I do not know what happened to him, but that is one of ways that gangs groom young people.
These young people need support and intervention; policing is one way to do that. It is worth highlighting that, in Hackney, we have lost one in four police officers since 2010. We are now linked with Tower Hamlets as one borough command unit, and we have not lost any more police, but there has not been any increase, so the savings have not materialised as additional people on the street.
In my intervention on Mr Duncan Smith, I mentioned that neighbourhood policing is vital. I remember the days when there was such distrust for the police in Hackney; neighbourhood policing helped to break down those barriers because people knew who they could talk to, or they could make a call to somebody anonymously. I have been on doorsteps on a number of occasions doing a roving surgery, and people have said, “I have to tell you something, but don’t tell the police. I don’t want them to know my address, because I have a teenage child, and I’m frightened that if the police come to the door, they will be targeted.” It is palpable fear.
On one side we see that fear, and on the other we see an increase in brazen behaviour. Only last June I went to a small community event. If I had arrived five minutes earlier, I would have been in the midst of teenagers arriving on bikes, pulling out machetes when they recognised someone and marauding through a group of toddlers and mothers, with only a couple of men in the environment. That did not make the headlines, because those people were not living their lives on Twitter or social media; they were just frightened in the moment.
As I arrived, someone was on the phone telling the police. For the next nearly two hours that I was there, not a police officer turned up. Obviously, I have raised this with the police, and I will not go into the detail—they said they were seeking the perpetrator. But what message does it send to our communities when we do not have enough police to go and get the evidence? People were willing to be witnesses, and between them they could probably have identified the perpetrators. What the young children there go away with is that something like that happens and the police cannot even attend. I have heard a number of tales of young people on bikes, with machetes in hand, brazenly going down the street to show that they are in control, because they no longer believe that the police will turn up.
In defence of the police, when they do come, I have seen instances where they know the young people. The remaining neighbourhood police work hard to know the young people, and they try to work with them to protect them. They know what is going on, and there is some good, talented policing going on, but there are just not enough police to do it well. The more police are removed into police stations and blue-light cars, the more the connection with the community is broken, and that is not working. The Minister has to directly address the release of resources; no one can pretend—if they ever did—that it is not going to make a difference to the lives of young people on our streets and the lives of families and communities.
The context, as others have said, is an £850 million round of cuts to the Metropolitan police since 2010. More than 17% of the funding is controlled by the Government, so it is directly in the Minister’s remit to tell us what she and the Government are going to do. The Public Accounts Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, has highlighted real concerns about funding for policing and also about the Home Office’s understanding of exactly what the pressures are on the police—the cost shunting, for example. The police are the blue-light provider of first and last resort. They pick up the pieces when other public services, such as mental health and so on, are overstretched. So the police are doing more with less, and that has a direct impact in the circle of austerity. “Austerity” is a buzzword—sometimes, it is a positive word in the mouths of some Government Ministers—but it is having a real effect. The problem needs to be explained in those terms. We also have the context of cuts to local authorities of around a third— 40% in my own borough since 2010.
I am really weary of this. Hackney is weary, the parents in my constituency are weary, and the young people are weary and afraid. We keep raising our concerns. I have been a Member of this place for nearly 14 years and in elected office for 25. Children are fearful. At an age when they should feel free and be able to roam their streets freely, they are afraid to go out. Their parents worry about what is happening to them when they are out, and are worried that they will not come home. I have met too many parents whose children did not come home, so I understand their worries.
Too often, I meet the parents and families of victims who will never walk through their door again. I meet parents who are burying or nursing their children. I meet teachers in schools mourning a pupil. It is not normal to go to a school’s speech day and have to talk about a child’s death. That happens too often to those of us who are not victims and are not really affected. It is the pupils and young people who are affected. We have all been to too many funerals, as churches mourn one of their own.
At every primary school I visit, the children raise concerns about knife crime and violence in very specific terms. I try to reassure them that what they read in the papers is a small percentage overall, but the fear escalates and reaches every one of them. I visited a youth group in Hoxton where young girls told me about their big fear of knife crime. The UK Youth Parliament’s English group has made knife crime its No. 1 campaign priority. We should listen—and the Minister should listen—to those young people, who tell us what is important to them, and that should be the most important thing to us.
I want to touch on the issue of social media, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham raised in her speech. I have been appalled by what I have seen, and I applaud the efforts of my hon. Friend Ms Buck and others who have raised such concerns. I was horrified to learn from a local headteacher that a close associate of a young man currently in prison for the brutal manslaughter of a 16-year-old girl has a following of more than 1 million on YouTube. The videos blatantly talk about violence and gang action on Hackney’s streets.
It is not only YouTube that streams this stuff. BBC 1Xtra—our own public service broadcaster—broadcast a video of raps about stabbing on Hackney’s streets, which I raised with the BBC. In the video, areas are named and rival Hackney gangs called out. I was told that the production team did a careful analysis of the content and that, in this case, they did not think it crossed the threshold. Do they live in cloud cuckoo land? They certainly know nothing about my borough. It was immediately obvious to me, and I am a middle-aged woman, for goodness’ sake—it is not like I’m down there with the kids. I could tell that this was not just innocent stuff. I am meeting the BBC next week because I was completely dissatisfied with its response. Its understanding of the reality and the impact of the terminology and references is really not good enough. We need to work out what we are going to do about this. I know that that is a lot for the Minister to take on, but there must be conversations across Government about what we do about that online presence.
The Mayor of London joined us in Hackney during one of our worst periods of attacks. We met local community leaders, including very good young youth leaders, as well as church leaders, other key people and young people themselves to discuss what we need to do. As I said, we know what is needed. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, it is not rocket science. In fact, a very long time ago, under a Labour Government—I am not being party political—we began to look at some of the issues. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker was the Minister at the time, in a position similar to that of the Minister now, and he looked at trying to get that public health issue resolved. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it can be very difficult to get some of that health information into the mix, but it is vital that we do. That was one of the big stopping points. It is important that we have not just an initiative here and an initiative there, but the long-term approach that many have talked about.
Investment in youth work, particularly detached youth work, is one part of that. Since the Mayor of London visited, one of his deputies has visited, and it was really interesting to hear the young people themselves say what mattered to them and what worked for them. The young men and women could see that the diversionary opportunities for nine and 10-year-olds—they named that age group—were particularly important so that they knew they had a positive future that did not take them down the gang route and that took them away from the idea that they needed to carry a knife. It still will not take away the fear, but it gives them a positive outcome.
Going back to the riots in Hackney in 2011, not a single Hackney schoolchild was involved. Our schools are now among the best in the country—some of them in the top 1%. That is probably an enviable position for the Minister, given that her constituency in Lincolnshire is not in the same favourable position. Those young people had purpose and did not get involved.
The Home Office has said it wants to adopt the public health approach, but we need investment in prevention. We need something much more concrete than an aspiration. I am hopeful that the Minister, who is a thoughtful woman, will lay that out today. We know some of the triggers. As others have said, domestic violence or some kind of traumatic incident in childhood has a big impact on the future of young people, often leading to exclusions from school. If young people have a special educational need, it is often not dealt with quickly enough. The fact that they cannot reach an educational psychologist sometimes forces a school to exclude, when we would normally encourage it to keep a child in school. Delay means things escalate and can lead to expulsion and exclusion, so that young people do not get what they need.
There is a whole area of work around what happens in our pupil referral units and the support there for young people, but we do not have time to go into that today. It is good to have a Youth Violence Commission, but we want to make sure that its work is implemented. Early help and prevention is really important, but it has got to be more than just a pithy term. We need to invest early and make sure that those who might become youngers in the gangs are supported so that most of them do not become youngers, but stay as children with hopes, aspirations and the freedom to roam.
Will the Minster put Government money behind this? It is not necessarily a lot of money. It is about how we configure the money that we have got. More money is always welcome. I am not asking her to say, “No, we cannot give more money”—I know that is probably the line she has been told to take by her officials. I understand that she personally cannot sign the cheque, but I am sure she will be lobbying the Chancellor. The Public Accounts Committee has highlighted how the Home Office has too little understanding of the pressures on the police and of the impact of funding, but I know the Minster or her colleagues will reply to our report on that.
What conversations is the Minister having with the Department for Education about special educational needs and other support for vulnerable pupils, such as teaching them resilience, providing mental health support and picking up, as schools often do, a problem at home that can cause other problems. Not all these young people have problems at home, but there is an overlap. What is the Home Office doing to take account of the Youth Violence Commission’s recommendations?
A small amount of money—for example, for an added youth work hour or two, or an extra half a youth worker—can make a huge difference. I am so impressed by the youth organisations that I visit in my constituency. They do amazing work, giving young people somewhere to go and sometimes walking a young person home because they are frightened to go home alone. When I have spoken to young people, very often they want something simple: somewhere warm, safe and dry to do their homework. They are not asking for a great deal. It can make a disproportionate difference in prevention and can increase the feeling of safety so that young people are free to roam.
I want to pay a brief tribute to the hospitals in my area—the Homerton and the Royal London—and the investment in making sure there is diversionary support. I recently spent some time in hospital—not on a visit as an MP; I lived there for a little while—and when a victim of a knife crime came in, I could see the very good impact of the support that wraps round in the Royal London Hospital. However, it is a tragedy that both the Homerton and the Royal London are centres of excellence in dealing with stabbings of young people—they should not be centres of excellence on this. Is that not a tragedy? However, they do good work and should be commended. Every young person who goes in with a knife injury should be properly “wrapped around” and supported. My hon. Friend Dr Allin-Khan has highlighted that from her perspective as both an MP and an accident and emergency doctor.
I hope that the Minister will heed what the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford said about the need for an ongoing process. We have started before, but the process stops and starts again. In the end, a long-term, ingrained approach will be better for everyone, including the taxpayer. I hope that the Minister will be the one who really kicks things off. She knows that if she does, she will have our strong support. If she does not, we will be snapping at her heels to make sure we do not have to visit more families who have lost a loved one.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, but I have to acknowledge that after 19 years in this place I am weary, depressed and upset. Here we are again: colleagues—often the same ones—coming to use our words in debates such as this. Hansard will record the issues we explore, and the tremendous number of ideas conveyed.
When I began my career in this place, Operation Trident was just getting going in London. At that stage the discussion was about whether we could get over the gun violence then happening in London, associated with gangs often described as Yardie gangs. There was a sense that we would be able to get on top of the problem, and that it would go—that the issue was really to be associated with downtown America. Almost two decades later, we might view the situation we have got to with knife and gun crime and gang activity in the UK—in London and England, overwhelmingly—as if it were a patient, being assessed by a doctor. The patient’s condition could be getting worse, stable or improving. Sadly, it has clearly got a lot worse. Something has gone drastically wrong.
I agree with everything said in the debate so far, and congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer, who secured the debate. I send love, humility and respect to the family of Jaden, aged just 14, who lost his life recently. When I think of him, I cannot but think of my eldest son, who is just a year younger. It breaks your heart. I also reflect on the loss, on Easter Monday last year, of a beautiful young woman, Tanesha Melbourne-Blake, who was shot and killed leaving a newsagent in Tottenham. That led to the current debate, which is currently overwhelming us.
Things have got worse. We have heard that there were 40,147 offences in the year ending in March 2018. Today we found out that violent crime has gone up by 19%. Homicide and knife crime are up. It is all up. The problem is, in a sense, not new: we just have to read Dickens’s description of Fagin and the gangs that populated London in 1839. However, it is a problem that grips us hugely at this time.
An important issue has been touched on, in relation to county lines, and that is drug use. What we are talking about is not just kids knifing each other because they happen to be violent. Behind much of the knife crime lies a huge industry, which reaches all over the world. It begins in countries such as Colombia. I have spoken to quite a lot of young urban people aged 12, 13 and 14 and many of them cannot even tell me where Colombia is. They certainly could not organise the trans-shipment of cocaine across the Atlantic and through Spain and Amsterdam to this country. They are not the men in suits—often anonymous—who deal with that traffic. Those men are not sufficiently made the subject of debate in this House. Yes, such organised crime traffics huge amounts of drugs. However, it also traffics people—women—and guns, which is why there is an increase in gun crime.
There are many different types of young people in the urban communities affected by the problems we are debating, but I will give Members a picture of some of them. Of course, there is the young man or woman who has fallen into a gang. We talk about them a lot; but there is also the young man or woman growing up on one of the great housing estates. They are not in a gang. They do not know anything about gangs, really. They are just seriously scared.
I think about those young people a lot, because that was me once—scared. They are picking up knives and burying them in bushes, because they do not feel safe in the communities where they live. I must tell the House that if they do not feel safe in the communities where they live it is the responsibility of this place, of the Met Commissioner, of Government—the Home Secretary—and of the Mayor. We have failed those young people living on estates who do not feel safe and who pick up knives and bury them before and after school and at the weekends, to protect themselves—and then find themselves using them.
There is another group of young people. I care a lot about them. They are the kind who might be in a park after school, following the crowd. Often they have special needs such as dyslexia, ADHD, mild Asperger’s or autism. They are just following the crowd, in the park, but they are another group who get rounded up. We could be having a debate about joint enterprise. Why do we have a law that throws young people into prison, even though they did not commit the murder, because they happened to be in the same place? They are vulnerable and impressionable—like most teenagers—and some of them are in jail as I speak. Why? It is because the police are not close to the intelligence, and there is a culture of “no snitching” and not telling tales. Therefore we round them all up. To put it bluntly, because we are mainly talking about black lives, no one really cares.
There are different groups of young people, and then, of course, there are the victims. All of that is largely driven by drugs, which are prolific. The price of cocaine has dropped, the purity has risen, and it is estimated that 875,000 people used cocaine in England and Wales last year, a rise of 15%—it just gets worse—with an 8% rise among 16 to 24-year-olds and 432 deaths related to it.
All that is driving the gang activity, serving markets across the country. That struck me when I was in Highbury Corner youth court. I had a young constituent, 17 years old, and the magistrate announced that he had been arrested in Aberdeen. I have been to all four corners of this country, but I must admit I have never been to Aberdeen. I thought, “What’s he doing in Aberdeen?” It turns out there is a big cocaine market in Aberdeen. There is a lot of money coming off the oil rigs, and there was my young constituent, serving the market in Aberdeen—or rather being pimped out by an adult to serve that market.
Of course, the trafficking of that drug drives a culture of violence back home. It can affect kids who are not county lines, because it creates a culture of violence in the communities we represent. I must ask the Minister: in that context, why, oh why has the Home Office budget for the UK Border Force been cut by £110 million, or 18%, since 2012? We talk a lot about cuts, but if we cut the Border Force it will have an impact on the drug market.
Most sane commentators, who in this country stretch from William Hague, the former leader of the Conservative party, to Charlie Falconer, the former Secretary of State for Justice under the previous Labour Government, are beginning to talk very seriously about the idea that the war on drugs has failed, yet we in this place have failed to keep up in our responses. That is for another debate, but let us put that squarely at the centre of this discussion. Sadly, just as was the case when Dickens was writing about London all that time ago, where there is poverty, where there is hardship—I will return to that in a moment—there will always be young souls who can be taken up. Much can be said about prevention, but let us address the seriousness of the demand driving this whole agenda and the need to support the different kinds of young people I discussed.
Many in this debate have talked about the importance of policing, but there are other crucial services beyond policing. We require our local authorities and young offending teams to set effective violence reduction and youth strategies, but it is hard to be effective when council budgets have been slashed by 54%. Youth centres, after-school activities—gone. Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres closed, 3,500 youth workers lost their jobs and 140,000 places vanished. Spending on universal youth services has fallen by 52%. Interventions at local level have disappeared. That is on top of the neighbourhood policing that we have discussed.
Let us be clear about what that neighbourhood policing is really about; my hon. Friend Clive Efford made this point. We have housing estates where, I am afraid, the police cannot be found. That is why the young people are scared. The police are just not there in the numbers they need to be. I think of the Broadwater Farm estate in my constituency, which has 3,500 people. The police are not there in the numbers, and that is why the young people are scared.
When those young people are making a decision about whether to tell on a young person they know who has a knife or a gun hidden in his bedroom—“Do I worry about him and his mates on the estate or do I tell the police?”—they are making a reasonable judgment. Of course they do not tell the police, because they do not think the police can protect them; they do not see them in the numbers and the police are not present on the estate. It is not an unreasonable judgment that these young people are making.
I must also make it absolutely clear what is happening in reality in these young people’s lives and those of their parents. This is not to make excuses: poverty is never an excuse for violence. I grew up poor and working-class. Many Members of this House, including some who have spoken already, grew up in those circumstances. I never, ever say that poverty and being working-class or poorer is an excuse for violence. Nevertheless, black youth unemployment in this country between the ages of 16 and 24 is currently running at 26%. The national average is 12%—it is more than twice that for this community. People say, “Oh, why is it always black youth that we see?”, but my mother would have said, “Idle hands make the devil’s work.” It is quite simple. I am sure you too have heard that saying before, Sir Graham.
Young people must have jobs, and we must do something about the housing crisis, which is also creating polarised communities: people living perpetually in houses of multiple occupation, again in the context of the housing estates I am describing, with a lack of services, polarisation and increasing poverty, against a backdrop of huge cuts to welfare—they, too, have a bearing on this—and unemployment. The cauldron in which the story we are telling is mixed starts to feel akin to what Dickens was writing about. That is the point.
Yes, we need a public health approach, but it will have to be more than just a nice slogan or phrase; I am worried that it is becoming one of those in politics. I have seen it happen before. It happened with another phrase that we started using a few years ago: “affordable housing”. Affordable housing? In London? At 80% of market value? We still use that phrase, but it means nothing to ordinary people, and I am worried that the public health strategy, which had a great name when it came out of Glasgow, is being tarnished, because it needs resource, joined-up activity and real co-ordination.
I am very pleased that I was asked to be on the violence reduction task force, but there is a hell of a lot to do. On the issue of drill music and YouTube, some of the commercial companies have a lot to answer for at the moment, but we should not focus entirely on the music that young people listen to. There are issues across social media with all young people in Britain, including young girls bullied on forums such as WhatsApp and Instagram.
I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend was here for my speech, but the only thing I would like taken down is the specific drill video that celebrated the murder of a 14-year-old in the playground, not all drill music. I do not intend to blame a genre of music for the deaths of children.
Let me put it on the record that my hon. Friend is entirely right; if my comments came out the wrong way, they were not what I meant. However, there are issues about what it is acceptable to put on social media—what it says and what it is driving—and there is a real question about regulation. That is absolutely clear.
France has just banned smartphones for under-14s in school, I think. We have heard nothing from the chief medical officer in this country—nothing. Nothing has been said. But we know that there are issues of mental health. We know that self-harm is up and anorexia is up. In a way, knife crime is a different sort of self-harm in the community, is it not? So there are some ingredients here, but we need to be careful about focusing on one particular group when actually this is an issue across the board.
I hope that the Minister might say something about serious organised crime and about cocaine—about drugs. I hope that she understands that the thrust of much of what has been said here is entirely about the resources available for the police, local authorities, youth services and families themselves to grip and deal with this problem so that we are seeing a reduction and not—as we are seeing now, month on month and year on year—a rise.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, and, as always, to follow my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy. I often seem to follow him in knife crime debates, which is always daunting.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate and my hon. Friend John Cryer for introducing it. I agree with, I think, everyone in this Chamber; there is a lot of agreement about what the problems are, what issues we face, and what should be done. I know that the Minister is listening and that she will do all she can.
I want to remember the young men who have died in my constituency of Croydon Central. Andre Aderemi died in August 2016. Jermaine Goupall, who was only 15, died in August 2017. And Kelva Smith, whom I had canvassed during the election campaign and promised that I would work on knife crime and do all the things that we needed to do—I let him down; we all let him down—was stabbed to death on the streets of Croydon in March 2018.
Fortunately, there have not been any murders of that kind in Croydon since. We are very glad about that and hope that it is the start of a trend. I want to pay tribute to my borough of Croydon, which, in the face of very significant cuts, is doing a lot. There are community groups. There are faith groups, which we should not forget, because faith groups have people who can love one another; have money; have buildings that they can sometimes support other community groups in; and have faith, which is what drives those people who are religious and gives them a purpose. We must not forget the faith groups, because they have a huge role to play. We also have the council and the police. They are all working together. Croydon Council has committed to setting up a violence reduction unit, which is a very good thing.
The main flip that I think we need to see at national, regional and local level is that, rather than panicking every time knife crime rises and throwing a pot of money at the problem, we need to understand the problem and its causes, work out how much money that would cost to address and then implement the measures necessary. What happens, probably across all our constituencies, is that as soon as there is a pot of money, many different organisations have to compete with one another to get it. It leads to a situation in which we are encouraging people to work on their own, rather than working together. We need to flip that round.
In Croydon, we have done a review of the 60 serious cases of youth violence. That has not been published yet, but we have seen some of the findings. In the 60 serious cases of youth violence, every single child was outside mainstream education. There was a maternal absence. That was interesting because we often talk about paternal absence, but there was also a maternal absence. It was not necessarily that the mother was not there, but she may have had an addiction, may have been working several jobs or may have had her own mental health problems such that she was not able to parent.
The other interesting finding was that, of the 60, very few had a trusted adult—whether that be a teacher, someone from a state organisation or a family member—in their life. When we look at the number of times, especially as seen in the serious case reviews for most violent deaths, that the state intervenes, for none of the people to be able to be a trusted adult because they come and go and different state bodies intervene is significant. That intervention does not quite have the impact that we want it to have.
I really hope that Croydon, by setting up the violence reduction unit, will look at all these things in the round—look at adverse childhood experiences, look at the trauma-informed approach and look at what is actually going on in the streets of Croydon. We have done a bit of work looking at where violence happens in public in Croydon, and there are about 11 hotspots in the borough; there are only about 11 places where most of the violence occurs. If there are only 11 hotspots, surely we can have more policing in those areas and try to tackle some of those problems for the long term.
Like other colleagues, I pay tribute to the schools. There is a huge difference, which we have talked about, in approaches to these issues. In Croydon, there is one school that in a year made 187 temporary or permanent exclusions. There are others that make a handful, if any. Those approaches are very different. We have had many conversations about why this is happening—why exclusions are increasing, and what we need to do about it.
It is a slightly easy response to blame entirely the new academy system, as some people do. Because of the autonomy that academies have, perhaps we are not able to put enough pressure on them, and they are looking to their results. That may be true up to a point, but there are also some excellent academies that are not excluding children, so we need to understand what is really going on in that mix.
The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which I chair, did some work on this, as my hon. Friend Stella Creasy mentioned. We found that one third of local authorities do not have any places left in their pupil referral units. That is not surprising, given that permanent exclusions have increased by 56% in the past three years. Almost half those exclusions are of children with special needs. It cannot be right that we are permanently excluding children with special needs without going through a whole series of interventions that should be in place to try to keep them in mainstream schools. That will not always be possible. It is not always right for children to be in mainstream schools, and we do need to have a PRU system that works, but as my hon. Friend Meg Hillier said, we need to look at the whole PRU world, because not enough light is being shone on the good and the bad, and how effective they are.
Knife offences have increased at pretty much the same—
Can I just make a tiny intervention on the point that my hon. Friend has just made? One issue with the PRU in my constituency is that mums have complained that the people they are trying to get their children away from, the groomers, are waiting outside the PRU because the captive audience is going to leave it and walk straight into their arms.
That is absolutely true. There is a greater vulnerability to influence. There are lots of issues with PRU systems. For example, children tend to finish much earlier than in mainstream schools; they finish at 2 o’clock, so they are more likely to be on the streets for longer. As my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft has mentioned before in Parliament, if we look at when knife offences occur, we see that there is a peak after school and before parents come home from work. It is absolutely tragic, but the number goes up, and then it goes down again. It would be good to keep children busy for that time, before their parents get home from work.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In pressing the point about PRUs and alternative provision, will she also recognise—I am sure that she sees this in Croydon—the very real concerns about the disproportionality in the number of black and minority ethnic children who are excluded from schools and find themselves in alternative provision, and, frankly, the seeming scarcity of public concern about that escalation in school exclusion rates?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely, completely right. I have had cases in my constituency, as we probably all have, and I have talked before in the Chamber about the worst case that I had.
A young boy who was black was permanently excluded from school. He was on the route to being diagnosed as autistic, which takes a very long time. Everybody knew that he was autistic. His classroom was turned around over the half-term period, so when he came back to it everything was different. He kind of freaked out: he was violent and was permanently excluded. This child was five—five years old. We appealed the case and won, but for obvious reasons his parents did not really want him to stay in that school, so we found alternative provision. His mother is a wonderful woman, who has the wherewithal to be able to fight the system—get in touch with her MP, and do all the things that people need to do. I just feel for the people whom I do not meet; they are the ones who do not have that wherewithal, so they suffer much more.
We absolutely need to look at education. The Government are looking at the issue. Ofsted is looking at it, too, and the Children’s Commissioner has done great work. We really need to work out how some schools manage to keep these kids and not exclude them, while still running a good school without disruption to the other children in their classes.
I will talk a little about the public health approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead said that there is no magic bullet for these issues, and Mr Duncan Smith said that of course we know what the solutions are, and we just need to follow what works. I think both those things are true, and we need to be clear about that.
We actually know a lot about what works. Violence is not inevitable; how we reduce violence is absolutely evidence-based. The public health model is a way of reducing violence. When we talk to surgeons such as Duncan Bew from King’s College Hospital, he will say that he is a great advocate for the public health approach. He spends his time putting back together children who have been stabbed. Actually, we should also recognise that there would be a lot more dead young people were it not for surgeons’ improvement in their practices over the years. The survival rates for stabbings have gone up massively and it is a credit to our medical profession that they have managed to do that.
Duncan Bew, this great surgeon who is an advocate for the public health approach, would say that if he, as a doctor, knew that there was a cure for a disease but he did not implement it, then he would be done for medical negligence. Why on earth, then, are we not doing what we absolutely know works—looking at violence as an epidemic? That is what it is. It goes up then it goes down, and it spreads and then contracts. Reducing it is all about interventions. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said—completely rightly—we have to keep doing things, because we can do all the right things and reduce the violence, but then it will go up again.
The public health approach is very simply about interrupting the violence, preventing its future spread and changing social norms so that it does not happen again. It is very clear. The World Health Organisation has done plenty of work on this issue as well; it will give people the seven strategies of intervention, which work. We just need to look at the evidence of that work, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said, there needs to be more than words. We need to make sure that we actually put the funding in underneath, to ensure that we make all the interventions that we know work.
On county lines, I agree with everything that has been said already. Croydon has a line to Exeter and I have met Exeter police. They say that if they go to the coach station in Exeter and see a little chap getting off the coach with no baggage, that is someone they need to be looking out for. However, one of the issues they have highlighted to me is how we make sure that those young people, when they are picked up by the police, are looked after; sometimes the police will ring the council and the council say, “Well, the foster parent doesn’t want them anymore, because they have just been found with drugs. We haven’t got any emergency foster care. Can you just keep them there for a bit?” The police end up with these kids sitting in their office for hours on end while the council tries to find someone to look after them.
My hon. Friend highlights a really important issue. One of the other challenges, of course, is that if a child is outside their own local area, they fall between different social services authorities. They are picked up as an emergency case, if they are young enough, by the receiving area, but ultimately they are not that area’s responsibility. I am sure she will agree that that issue also needs to be looked at.
Absolutely—I completely agree. Joining up all these services, so that we look after these children properly, is incredibly important.
Youth services have already been mentioned, as have policing and the strong case for more resourcing for neighbourhood policing. When we met a group of young people who had been in prison for knife crimes, some of whom had been in and out of prison over a number of years, they talked about knowing their local community police in the past. They said that that was not the case now.
Finally, I will talk about sentencing—we have not talked about that much—and about what we do with our young people. The all-party parliamentary group went up to Polmont in Scotland last year. Scotland has stopped imposing custodial sentences of less than a year for young people, so it has halved its youth prison population, but it has kept the funding in place for the prison in Polmont. Scotland now has half the number of young people in prison that it had before; those young people who are in prison are there for serious crimes. They are the people with the significant issues.
In Polmont, the funding goes into teaching young people to read and write, giving them apprenticeships and giving them all kinds of skills. The fire brigade comes in and does a course with a load of them on public safety. Local businesses teach them how to do bricklaying or other skills that we actually need outside prison. We met a lot of those young people, who are managing to turn their lives around.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham talked about the fact that a lot of the people involved in knife crime in London are black. Of course, in Polmont the entire population is white, but when we asked people there, “What are the issues that cause knife crime in Scotland?”, they will say, “Sectarianism”—a word that we do not use in London at all. Sectarianism is the issue in Scotland.
It is worth looking at the underlying issues, one of which is that of those young people in that prison for youth offenders, two-thirds come from the 20% most deprived areas. The same poverty underlies all this violence. Furthermore, nearly 40% of them had lived in a family where there was domestic violence, and 75% had experienced a traumatic bereavement. Traumatic bereavements are really significant. A lot of those young people had experienced one, two or three traumatic bereavements—somebody in their family had been murdered, or had died of a drug overdose or in some kind of other accident. Some 50% of them had parents who had been in prison. The issues there are exactly the same as in London.
I want to ask the Minister some questions, although I know that she will probably not have time to answer all of them today. I am interested to know how the Government are engaging with young people on this issue, because, as has been mentioned, young people are at the heart of what we need to do. They are the answer to all these problems. It would also be good if she talked about what more we can do about school exclusions, and how we can share good practice on that issue.
There was a recent report in The Independent that the Home Office is reducing the support available to county lines victims. I do not know whether the Minister can comment on that. Also, does she have any understanding of the proportion of children involved in knife crime, or in any kind of serious violence, as a result of grooming and criminal exploitation? My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham talked about that.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics that came out today showed that knife crime is up by 8%—the highest level on record. We absolutely need to tackle that rise and to be far more ambitious about doing so. I end by saying that our ambition should be nothing less than to be the safest country in the world. That is what we should aim for. To achieve that, we need to increase policing but we also need to look at the underlying causes of violence. As Desmond Tutu famously said,
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
That is the answer.
We now have three Front-Bench speakers to wind up, but I know that the hon. Gentleman who secured the debate would also like to wind up briefly at the end for a couple of minutes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, and to summarise the debate and speak on behalf of the Scottish National party.
I thank John Cryer on securing this very important debate. He took time to stress the importance of an approach that addresses prevention as well as cure. He also asked that we address the causes of crime and, in doing so, adopt a joined-up approach.
Julia Lopez asked what could be done to monitor social media, which can be used to promote violent crime. Lyn Brown highlighted the extended trauma felt within communities and the fear it spreads. Mr Duncan Smith noted that violent crimes are sometimes associated with tit-for-tat crime among criminal gangs, and mentioned the role that our media play in that. He also mentioned the violence reduction unit in Scotland, which I will talk about in greater detail later.
Stella Creasy rightly talked about the victims and their families, and highlighted an increase in violent organised crime and the young people who are, and will be, put at risk until we address this problem. Clive Efford talked about the need to invest in communities in a way that benefits them—“working with” rather than “doing to”. Ellie Reeves expressed frustration that we are not keeping pace with the changing nature of the problem, and also referred to the VRU in Glasgow. Meg Hillier spoke movingly about a young man who survived a terrible attack but whose mother now does not know where to turn. Where is the support for those victims? The alternative is young men and women being recruited into gangs, so we need intervention and support.
Mr Lammy said that he was weary, depressed and upset that we are still debating violent crime all these years after he came to this place, and that the statistics in England and Wales are getting worse. Like many others, he mentioned policing and county lines, which is surely a subject on which a debate is waiting to be had. Finally, Sarah Jones asked the Minister to listen to the consensus of opinion that she has heard today. The hon. Lady also paid tribute to faith groups, which play an important part in our community, and I am glad that she found time to mention the excellent work that has been done in Polmont. From that brief summary we can feel the frustration and anger at the loss of life and the perversion of aspirations, especially among our young people.
A United Nations report published in 2005 found that Scotland was the most violent country in the developed world, with more than 2,000 people subject to violent attacks every week. In the same year, another report produced by the World Health Organisation determined that Scotland had the second highest murder rate in western Europe. Glasgow was widely claimed to be the murder capital of Europe, as was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, with more than 70 knife-related murders every year.
Looking back on those statistics, one of the most eye-catching aspects was the rapid increase in crime over a relatively short period. Between 2003 and 2004, for example, the number of murders rose by almost 20% and the number of attempted murders rose by one third. An arms race was taking place on our streets as individuals sought to protect themselves from perceived threats. Drugs, alcohol and gang culture played a key role in that rapid rise in knife crime, and many urban areas of Scotland were affected.
That experience was not felt exclusively by Glaswegians. My constituency of Inverclyde also suffered—or, to be more specific, families suffered from the loss of loved ones as we tried to grapple with violence on our streets. Scotland stood at a crossroads, and it was at that point that Strathclyde police established the violence reduction unit, in an effort to change the circumstances that were giving Glasgow such a brutal reputation. There are similarities with London’s well-publicised problems with knife crime, which are spreading throughout the United Kingdom, in part due to county lines. Perhaps the rest of the United Kingdom is now standing at a crossroads as to how it tackles that problem.
Scotland’s choice was to take a public health approach to knife crime. While custodial sentences for handling offensive weapons tripled in length between 2005 and 2015, a number of other programmes were launched to engage directly with young people. For instance, a pilot scheme called No Knives, Better Lives was first implemented in my constituency of Inverclyde. That scheme was primarily an education programme and included workshops that allowed young people to speak with ex-offenders, victims and medical professionals as they learned about the consequences of carrying a knife. That programme was backed up by high-profile advertising campaigns in cinemas, bus stops and other public locations. By 2010, there had been a 35% drop in knife carrying, and since 2006-07, there has been a 68% decrease in violent crime in Inverclyde.
The VRU has been supported by the work of Medics Against Violence, a group of medical professionals from a range of disciplines who go out and speak with schoolchildren about their experiences with knife crime. It is one thing for a child to get a lecture from their family, or indeed from a politician; it is entirely another thing for them to hear an ambulance driver describe their experience of finding a murder victim, or a plastic surgeon describe the process of reconstructing a person’s face after a knife attack. However, the primary focus of the campaign was not shock and gore: it was the real-life stories that had the greatest impact on the students. Dr Christine Goodall, an oral surgeon, said in 2009:
“We realised that, in order to have some chance of preventing young people getting involved in violence, we had to address the problem early—it was no good waiting till we saw them in hospital after an injury. We realised we should be talking to young people before they accepted that violence was an inevitable part of their lives…We thought perhaps if we could take the doctors out of the clinics and operating theatres and into schools to talk about the consequences of violence from their point of view, we might have some chance of helping some young people avoid injury.”
Another community initiative established by the VRU was the “call in”, which called in more than 600 gang members in Glasgow. Those who attended listened to hard truths from former gang members and the families of murder victims. One attendee, named Paul, said:
“I felt excluded all my life. Now here was the police, who used to exclude me all the time and they were trying to include me.”
Among the 200 gang members who became directly involved in that initiative, violent offending halved and weapons possession dropped by 85%. Violence decreased even among those who did not attend the programme. More generally, the work of the VRU has contributed to the halving of Scotland’s homicide rate. Similarly, the number of recorded incidents of handling an offensive weapon declined by almost 70% between 2006 and 2016. The number of recorded violent crimes has also halved since 2006-07 to one of the lowest levels since 1974.
All of those achievements have been made possible by the more than £17 million in funding provided by the Scottish Government, including £1.6 million to the VRU’s community initiative to reduce violence—which tackles territorial gang culture in Glasgow—and £776,000 to the mentors in violence protection schools programme to continue its work of educating our young people about the impact of violence. That policy is a statement that the Scottish Government will not allow knife crime to be normalised.
Duncan Bew, the clinical lead for trauma and emergency surgery at King’s College London, who was cited earlier by the hon. Member for Croydon Central, stated:
“The VRU is run by the police force, with support from the Scottish government. This is highly unusual—Scotland has the world’s only police force to have formally adopted a public health model.”
I know that London can learn from our experience, and I am pleased to read that the city recently established a VRU. I wish its director, Lib Peck, all the best in her new role, and in spreading the message that violence is not inevitable.
In the words of a tireless knife crime campaigner from my constituency, John Muir MBE:
“We have to be honest about what is going on out there.”
We have clearly had some success in Scotland, but we cannot become complacent. Knife crime still exists, violence is still on our streets, and even one death from knife crime can devastate a community. I sincerely hope that the UK Government can learn the lessons of prevention and are taking a proactive approach, engaging with those at risk of going down the road of violence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend John Cryer on securing this important debate. It has been an excellent debate that has allowed us a lot more space than we usually have in the main Chamber to debate the root causes of the issues and practical solutions. What has been striking has been the consensus around both the causes and the solutions.
My hon. Friend spoke about the profound shift in society and how the structures that used to provide the safety net for young people have been undermined or even disappeared. Julia Lopez talked about the creation of similar gaps through which vulnerable children are falling because of the failure, particularly of local authorities, to provide services thanks to nine years of cuts. My hon. Friend Clive Efford talked about the self-same perfect storm of cuts that have created vacuums allowing criminal gangs to exploit very vulnerable children. We heard about the trauma not only for victims and their families, but for entire communities such as West Ham, Walthamstow and Lewisham West and Penge, where people feel afraid to go out to use the shops and attend school, despite the clear resilience of those communities.
The debate has made clear the consensus on finding a public health solution and a whole-system, long-term, trauma-informed approach that targets intervention and has prevention as its absolute focus, providing intervention as early as possible alongside targeted, permanent community policing. It is clear that that kind of joined-up approach simply is not happening at the moment. At Home Office questions, I raised with the Minister the need for mental health referrals for victims of crime. I had a young constituent—he was 17 years old—who was stabbed multiple times last August. He was then targeted by the same gang and stabbed again in September. He is still to receive a child and adolescent mental health services referral. He is without mental health support six months on, after being stabbed multiple times on two separate occasions. That simply is not good enough and shows the failure we are experiencing in the system.
For everyone scarred by this now five-year upward trend of violence, it augurs a personal crisis from which they will never truly recover, with young lives lost, families destroyed and a son or a daughter they will never see again. It is a national crisis. Mr Duncan Smith was right about that. I served as a special constable 10 years ago in Brixton, which is a high-crime neighbourhood. In my three years, I never experienced a shift like the one he described. Our police are facing demand that they have never seen before. As my hon. Friend Meg Hillier said, that is because they are acting as a blue-light service of first and last resort. They are picking up the crises in all our other public services, including mental health and social care. They are having to transport patients with physical illnesses and ailments because the ambulance cannot arrive. She described a case where the police did not turn up for two hours after a machete attack. My jaw dropped. It is thoroughly unacceptable.
It was even worse than I said. It is completely unacceptable. As my hon. Friend said, the police do their best when they arrive, but they are so stretched for resources that they are simply unable to provide the service that the public need and deserve.
It is important to set the context for the contagion of youth violence we are seeing. As has been said, today’s crime statistics confirm once again that we are facing a crisis. I am sorry to say that it has been allowed to build as a result of neglect by the Government. Never since records began has violent crime been as high as it is today. Never since records began has knife crime been as high as it is today. The number of arrests has halved in a decade. As statistics today have shown, not only are we seeing a surge in violent crime, but police numbers remain at levels not seen for 30 years. We know that hampers the ability to tackle violent crime, and it does so in two important ways.
First, the fall in police numbers inevitably forces the police to focus their resources on reactive policing and responding to emergencies and crimes once they have happened. That is why we saw so many neighbourhood policing teams merged with response teams, masking the true number of officers lost from our streets. It is thoroughly ineffective, because the policing matrix shows that almost two thirds of successful interventions designed to reduce crime are proactive, rather than reactive.
Secondly, and even more crucially, evidence has shown time and again that local policing increases the legitimacy of police, which encourages the local community to provide intelligence and report crimes. It is beyond doubt that the reduced legitimacy of the police as a result of cuts has led to under-reporting, especially in certain categories of high-volume crime. That legitimacy and support from communities suffering from this epidemic is crucial to any success. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham talked about the need for young people in particular to see the police in a different light, as fellow human beings and members of the same community.
Intelligence-led stop and search will always be a crucial tool in bearing down on knife crime, but the truth is that that tool can only hope to be successful alongside a proper neighbourhood policing function rooted firmly in the community. Policing matters—of course it does—but serious youth violence does not happen in a vacuum; it reflects the environment and the society in which individuals live, learn and work throughout youth and adulthood and the political choices made about who to support. The story of youth violence is at heart a question of vulnerability and is fundamentally a result of twin failures: first, an environment that fails to nurture children; and secondly, services creaking under terrible strain and unable to provide the specialist support that children in particular desperately need. That is the scandal at the heart of this violence, and it is the real price of austerity. We have talked about exclusions, which my hon. Friend Stella Creasy spoke passionately about. Just 2% of the general population have been excluded from school, compared with 50% of the prison population.
The Children’s Commissioner has shown that 70,000 under 25-year-olds are currently feared to be part of gang networks. Some 2 million children live in families with complex needs, and 1.6 million have no recognised form of additional support. As the Children’s Commissioner said in her excellent report on vulnerabilities:
“We are all familiar with frailty in old age but much less so for children and teenagers...do we know...about children who start school unable to speak? Do we understand how this affects their...progression? Do we realise that an inability to express yourself leads to anger, and difficult behaviour, which is then reflected in rising school exclusions...? Do we know that if this continues...not only does the child’s education suffer but so does their mental health? Do we know that 60% of children who end up in the youth justice estate have a communication problem...? No—we do not know how many children got speech and language therapy last year, or how many were turned down.”
Why do we not know that, Minister? Why are we using evidence dating back to 2002 on the link between school exclusions and violence? Why has nationwide research not been conducted since 2006 on why young people carry knives and use them on each other? The last research was prior to the rise of social media and the consequences of austerity. Why are our services not designed to prevent children with special educational needs or speech and language difficulties ending up in the criminal justice system? Why do hospital-based diversions only exist in a handful of hospitals across the country, while serious youth violence is prevalent in every city? Why have our known successful youth services been denigrated to the point that most young people do not have access to any diversionary activities at all? I hope the Minister will consider carefully the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead for a full inquiry, so that we can consider all the factors in why young people are carrying knives.
The Government’s language on public health has been welcome, but while it is easy to talk, it is much more difficult to take the action necessary to tackle this contagion. That is the task before the Minister and we will all continue to hold her and this Government to account. Despite the challenges posed by Brexit, there is no more pressing or significant a challenge facing the House than the one we have been discussing today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank John Cryer for securing this extremely important debate. I thank colleagues from across the House for their contributions. Many of them have cited incredibly moving examples from their own constituencies and communities of youth violence and youth tragedies.
I am particularly moved by the very recent tragedy for the family of Jaden Moodie. I offer my sincere condolences to his family on behalf of the Government and, I am sure, the House. He was just a child. Anyone who has not experienced the loss that the Moodie family, and those other families we have heard about today, have experienced simply cannot begin to believe or understand the pain or difficulties that they are going through, this day and every other day.
We have heard primarily from London MPs, but I am conscious that this issue is not restricted to London. Indeed, just before Christmas I met someone from my constituency, which is very rural and very different from some of the constituencies represented here, who was the victim of a knife attack in our market town. The circumstances were very different from the county lines scenario that many hon. Members have described, but none the less important. I know that this issue affects many Members across the House, and their constituents.
I was struck by the urging of my hon. Friend Julia Lopez, and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Leyton and Wanstead, that we should listen to young people’s voices. I completely agree with them. That is an important part of my role. Indeed, last year, as well as going to visit youth services and people who work with young people in their communities, I invited former gang members into the House of Commons to meet colleagues, so that they could describe their experiences to us in this place of power and influence that sets the laws that have such an impact on their lives.
I am also sympathetic to colleagues’ urgings regarding adverse childhood experiences. This week we launched the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which, as I said at the time of the launch, is important for not only the immediate victims of domestic abuse, but the children who witness incidents of violence in their homes. We know that the most prevalent factor for children in contact with social services is experience of domestic abuse. Those children are more likely than those not in contact with social services to require alternative education provision. Again, we have heard from hon. Members about the impact that that can have.
One woman I spoke to last week at a women’s centre told me how her teenage son had started to copy the behaviour that he had witnessed at home before she could escape her incredibly toxic relationship. The gang members whom we meet and talk to through youth workers provide a reminder that domestic abuse is a horribly common factor for those who are drawn into gangs as well.
I pay tribute to the police and all agencies that work to stop violence, and that have to deal with the aftermath of violent incidents. I know that those thanks are very much echoed across the House. I want to give the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead a chance to wind up, so I will try to stop in about six minutes.
The Government published the serious violence strategy last year. I know that hon. Members are very familiar with that document, which sets out a step change in the way we think about and tackle serious violence. One of the most important parts of the strategy is the serious violence taskforce. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Lammy are both part of the taskforce. It is an important way of drawing together all the agencies that have been mentioned, and placing an obligation on them to change some of their thinking.
The topic of exclusions has been raised frequently. A great deal of work is going on at the moment through the taskforce, and through the Department for Education, on exclusions. A report is due, I hope shortly, from Edward Timpson, looking at alternative provision across the country. The results of that review, as well as the work that we are conducting through the taskforce, will help to solve some of the problems that have emerged regarding children being vulnerable to gangs.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham spoke passionately about the role of drugs. He spoke with eloquence and clear feeling about how it has affected his constituents, and the young people in his constituency who are being used to ferry drugs around the country. Shockingly, the United Kingdom is, I think, the highest consumer of cocaine in Europe. I emphasise the message again that anyone taking those drugs—a wrap at the weekend, or whatever—needs to be very clear about the role that their wrap is playing in the wider market of drugs and gangs.
We are taking a range of specific actions—too many, I am afraid, to go through this afternoon. The Offensive Weapons Bill is making its way through Parliament to ensure that we tighten up on some of the problems that we know about regarding, for example, the online sale of knives. We have just announced 29 projects that will benefit from £17.5 million through our early intervention youth fund. Many of those are, I am happy to say, in constituencies of Members of Parliament here today.
We are supporting additional much smaller charities through the anti-knife-crime community fund. I am glad that one of the projects that we are supporting is Redthread, because we know from A&E wards, which sadly have to try to pick up the pieces after a violent incident, that there is a teachable moment for children who are brought into A&E wards. Through Redthread, in London, Nottingham and Birmingham, we can reach more children to stop them on the path that they are taking.
I recognise the role of robust law enforcement. I have been out on a raid with the Metropolitan police’s violent crime taskforce. I am really pleased that that is working well. Nationally, we have Operation Sceptre, where every single police force in the country has a week of action of tackling knife crime in a way that is appropriate for their local area.
I am also very much in agreement with colleagues who raised data-sharing. We put explicit comfort in the Data Protection Act 2018 that organisations can, and should, share data to safeguard vulnerable people. The more we can put that message out, and press, frankly, the Department of Health and Social Care and others to have confidence in that, the sooner we will see results. Very often, A&E departments are where we can get a great deal of information about what is happening, and where, in our local communities.
The Home Secretary recently announced a new £200 million youth endowment fund to provide long-term support over the next decade to young people at risk of involvement in violence. That picks up on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green: that we need a permanent focus on the problem. That approach is coupled with the fact that we will consult on imposing a new legal duty to support the multi-agency approach in tackling serious violence. Again, there is a focus on permanence and ensuring that we are working constantly to help these young people. There will also be a review of drugs misuse, given the importance of drugs as a driver of violence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster raised many points, including international crime. Other developed economies are facing similar issues with the rise in violent crime. We called police forces, law enforcement agencies and health agencies to London a couple of months ago to talk to us, and to discuss what we could do internationally to stop it as well.
Those are just some of the measures that we are taking. I am very conscious that I have not had time to answer more questions. I thank every colleague who has spoken. If there are particular issues that they would like to discuss with me outside the debate, I am happy to do so. However, I think there is one thing on which we agree: we all want this to stop. I believe that by working together, with the comprehensive approach that we have taken this afternoon, we can—and will—make that happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I will be brief, because I do not have much choice. This has been a cracking debate; I wish I could refer more extensively to the speeches of hon. Members across the parties, but I will make just two points.
First, my friend and neighbour Mr Duncan Smith and many others spoke extensively about the public health approach to youth crime and youth violence, particularly knife violence. Crucial to that approach, as far as London is concerned, is the restoration of the safer neighbourhoods teams, which were introduced about 20 years ago. I was the Member for Hornchurch at the time—it was before I lost to the predecessor of Julia Lopez: not that I am bitter about it.
I remember the teams coming in and making a palpable difference almost straight away. There is intelligence that cannot be picked up when the police address crime purely by responding to incidents; it takes safer neighbourhoods teams out there, getting to know their wards. Every ward in London had a safer neighbourhoods team with a “one, two, three” system: one sergeant, two officers and three police community support officers.
Secondly, will the Minister consider my request for a full public inquiry into youth crime and its relationship to drugs, knife crime and violent crime generally? Perhaps she could discuss the matter with the Home Secretary and come back to me.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered tackling knife crime.