Local Government Funding — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:54 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) 2:54 pm, 27th March 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Thelma Walker on securing this very important and timely debate. Since the Conservative party came to power in 2010, my local authority, Croydon Council, has lost more than 70% of its central Government funding. At the same time, the population is growing. We have higher numbers of older people who need care services, more families have been made homeless because of welfare reform, and more working families are in poverty because of the freezing of working-age benefits and a real-terms reduction in people’s wages. Funding cuts and an increase in demand for statutory services such as care and housing means that there is drastically less funding for everything else. That includes services that help tackle the causes of violent youth crime. That is on top of severe cuts in policing. The result of all that is a national knife crime epidemic.

We largely know how to prevent violent youth crime and have successfully stopped it in the past. I was the leader of Lambeth Council in 2007—the last time there was a big increase in violent youth crime. We were the first council to set up what would now be called a public health approach, which means understanding and then treating the causes of violent youth crime, rather than focusing only on the symptoms. We commissioned the country’s biggest piece of academic research on violent youth crime, learned the lessons and then funded the services that stopped young people at risk of drifting into criminal behaviour from doing so. Violent crime quickly dropped by 30% and continued falling. We know what works, but it requires investment in services, including early intervention with low-level young offenders before they progress on to higher-level offending; mentoring and support that helps offenders not to reoffend; help for families in which children are growing up without the support they need, for instance to develop language and cognitive skills or loving, emotional bonds with their family; treatment for mental ill people, particularly when it arises from a child experiencing traumatic situations such as sexual or violent abuse; school exclusions, particularly of black boys; and youth activities and diversionary projects that help young people develop healthy relationships, skills and interests that will support them throughout the rest of their lives.

Since 2010, the Government have taken away the funding for those services in every community that needs them the most. They targeted the biggest cuts on the poorest communities, where violent youth crime is the highest. The 10 poorest communities in the country have suffered cuts more than 18 times bigger than the 10 wealthiest communities. By removing those communities’ ability to stop violent crime early, it spiralled out of control and spread, leading to what is now called county lines—the export of violent criminal behaviour linked to drug dealing from the areas where it started to everywhere else. That is why the number of deaths on our streets has escalated year after year across the entire country.

Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Government seem determined to keep repeating them. Their ironically named fair funding formula, which comes into force next year, removes deprivation levels from how funding for local services is calculated. The poorest communities will lose even more, and what capacity they have left to stop a further escalation of violent crime will be reduced, so violent crime will rise even faster.

When I asked the Home Office Minister about the need to do more to tackle violent crime, she emphasised the importance of the troubled families work, which is funded by the Minister’s Department. That is one of the few areas where the Government have done the right thing. They are funding professionals who bring together support that helps to reduce offending by families who are generating the highest levels of crime. What she did not say, perhaps because she did not know, is that all funding for that programme will come to an end in 12 months’ time—March next year. The services are working on their wind-up and closure plans. It is staggeringly short-sighted at a time when violent youth crime is soaring out of control to close down one of the few services that is actually helping. We need more of that kind of work, not less. What action is the Minister taking to ensure the troubled families programme continues after March? What guaranteed funding will the Government make available to ensure that it can continue?

We do not need to wonder how to tackle violent youth crime. We already know. The problem is that the Government have slashed the resources available to tackle it in the communities where it is growing the fastest. We need them to think again.