The rise of knife crime is a story of poverty, austerity and social deprivation. While in 2016/2017 London as a whole saw a 24% increase in knife crime, it was poorest boroughs which bore the brunt of this rise (with Southwark seeing a 46% increase, Lambeth a 51% increase and Croydon a 103% increase). However, poverty is not the whole story. When looking at these boroughs the poorest areas are not necessarily the most violent. Indeed, when comparing areas with similar levels of social deprivation (such as New Addington and Broad Green in Croydon) we see significantly divergent levels of knife crime.
Whilst recognising that poverty and austerity plays a significant role in generating knife crime (which is why it’s so vital to elect a Labour Government) let’s not lose sight of our collective agency to change our communities with the power and capacity we have. In short, it’s in our power, the power of our local Labour movement, to organise the central agents of community life which can support the prevention of violent crime: the community organisation, the school and the family.
Any approach to tackling knife crime must start by properly supporting and engaging with community organisations who are best placed to reconnect the lives of disenfranchised young people carrying knives to positive forces in society. The church, the mosque, the community association or youth organisation are all vital. In practice, that means building stronger links between community police services, council (social services), local health services and community groups, not only through forums of discussion, but also by enabling community organisations to reclaim the streets from fear. But this also means fundamentally reforming the process by which these groups are funded so that they are not always dependent on short term grant money and are able to engage in a long-term strategy on combating knife crime. This approach has begun in Croydon with the development of our Violence Reduction Network.
In schools it is incumbent on us to end the systematic exclusion of children, which only increases the chance that they will become involved in violent crime. Since 2014 there has been a 56% increase in exclusions in England, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime and I’ve brought together the Croydon data here. Never has there been a greater urgency to develop a proper culture of genuine inclusion. But that means giving schools greater support to include children who exhibit difficult behaviours and require additional support. Rather than demonise those children, it is vital that we integrate a system of counsellors and youth support services into schools which can provide genuine help when they become at risk of falling into networks that will lead to violent crime. Here, we require our local Clinical Commissioning Group to play a much longer term role by investing in these preventative approaches.
Finally, it is essential that we support the family. We know that parents and carers want the best for their children, but that there are huge pressures exerted by difficult social situations and the current impact of cuts to welfare and the implementation of Universal Credit are forcing families to the edge. Through civic organisations such as Another Night of Sister Hood and Music Relief Foundation (both local leaders in Croydon) and our schools, we need to work directly with families whose young people are at risk of falling into violent crime. That means including families in counselling and youth services and also developing a curriculum with local leaders and families which educates on the consequences of knife crime, so that the family network is at the heart of creating and supporting positive choices. In addition, it is vital to integrate social prescribing approaches into health practices (Thornton Heath has led on the development of this approach) and bring appropriate council support into the community to redesign and rebuild the welfare state.
None of these approaches are easy to achieve, none alone provide a silver bullet. Primarily it is essential that we develop long lasting concrete solutions with our communities to lay down foundations that can be built on in the future. Ending the epidemic of knife crime is one of the moral challenges of our times: the consequences of further failure are unthinkable and now is the time for us to do everything in our power to tackle it.