According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 47,513 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the year ending June 2019, leading to around a 44% increase since March 2011. This increase is also accompanied by a slight shift towards younger victims and perpetrators, as analysis by the Home Office has identified that more than 17,500 boys aged 14 carry a knife or weapon in England and Wales. Police statistics also show that young people aged 15 to 19 are responsible for half of all knife crime across London’s boroughs. Furthermore, statistics suggest that the victims of serious, gang motivated knife crime are predominantly male (92%), young (80% under 25 years of age) and from a BAME background.
To address the epidemic of violent crime, the Government released the Serious Violence Strategy in April 2018, centring on the following four themes:
- county lines and drug misuse
- early intervention and prevention
- supporting communities and local partnerships
- law enforcement
Following this, the Home Office announced it will be recruiting 20,000 more police officers over the next three years, with £750 million of funding for 2020-21 the first year of the recruitment drive. Police funding has also been increased by over £1 billion in 2019/20, including £100 million for the Serious Violence Fund which provided £63.4 million to 18 police forces worst affected by violent crime. £1.6 million has also been allocated to help improve the quality of data on serious violence, particularly knife crime, and support planning and operations.
Additionally, the Government introduced the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, allowing police extra powers to seize dangerous items and ensure knives are less likely to end up on the streets. Moreover, The Mayor of London along with the Metropolitan Police have established a Violent Crime Task Force to combat serious violent crime by introducing stop and search powers, and increased funding to policing by £140 million.
In a bid to target the youth in particular, the £200 million Youth Endowment Fund was set up to deliver early interventions to prevent youth offending. In fact, more focus should be placed on safeguarding the youth, especially in schools, as the Back To School? report, published by the APPG on Knife Crime suggests that there is a link between school exclusions and youth violence. According to the report, permanent exclusions have risen by 70% since 2012, meaning that more children are now vulnerable and at risk of getting into violence and gang related activities, due to other underlying causes such as lack of housing, youth services and employment opportunities.
Once again, we can look to Scotland for example and guidance. As a matter of fact, the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) launched a mentoring project in schools designed to combat the emerging threat of cyberbullying and encourage children to stay safe online. The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) has been credited for a dramatic reduction in school exclusions in Scotland over the last decade as a key factor in keeping children out of trouble.
Ultimately, in order to tackle the violent crime epidemic, including knife and gang crime, it is crucial to understand the root causes that put young people at risk and drive them to violence. It is imperative that all sectors of society, including the police, local authorities, health, education and community groups work together to tackle youth violence by taking into account young people’s lived experience.
The public sector must take a public health and trauma-informed approach to violent crime to keep our society safe, keep our children safe and effectively reduce violent crime across the country.
This piece was written by Noreen Kassam - IG Criminal Justice Hub