Will statutory responsibility placed on schools and the NHS improve rates of knife crime in the UK? JAN Trust welcomes attention regarding this issue but with the education and healthcare systems already under strain, it is unclear if more pressure on these services will have a positive outcome when dealing with knife crime.
The government wanting fresh solutions to tackle knife crime is both understandable and needed. In light of recent statistics revealing that knife crime has risen by 8% in the last year, and the news that 100 Londoners have died due to fatal stabbings between the 1st January and the 14th May 2019, it is unsurprising that new ideas are being proposed. These numbers highlight that knife crime is not being dealt with adequately and is getting worse. Such figures look even poorer combined with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner admitting in June 2019, that the crime solving rate was “woefully low” this year. If solving crimes, including knife offences, is going too slowly and already established methods such as stop and search are widely criticised, what new ideas can make a difference?
In April 2019, the government announced it wanted to introduce a statutory responsibility on education and healthcare staff to report knife crime if they spotted the signs. Signs could be worrying behaviour at school or suspicious injuries. This was planned to be part of a multi-agency public health duty to tackle knife crime from every angle. Staff would be held legally responsible for not acting on warning signals regarding someone at risk. However, this proposal did not go without criticism and rightly so.
The major issue lay with staff being personally responsible if they failed to report a potential knife crime case. This was seen as an overwhelming responsibility for staff to bear, especially when they already work in fields under pressure with reduced funding. For example, Chris Keates, the general secretary of National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said such an individual burden on teachers would mean their job was harder than ever before and would drive people out of the profession. This individual liability has now been removed as it was strongly opposed and the responsibility will now rest with healthcare trusts and schools as a whole. However, the issue remains that the government may be pushing for another knife crime solution that will fail to have a positive impact.
Despite amendments, many factors will remain as a barrier to reducing knife crime effectively regarding new legal responsibilities. Unless a significant amount of funding is committed to the project, it is unlikely to do any better than trying to fight crime on the streets whilst police officers on the ground are being reduced. As John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has commented; “you can’t legislate yourself out of this” and resources are needed for any plan to work. Moreover, considering the Met Police have admitted that overwhelming amounts of data have contributed to less crime being solved, one questions whether a potential flood of referrals from panicked schools and hospitals will do anything to reduce knife crime if the police are slowed down even more. Additionally, considering staff in both sectors already work long hours under stressful conditions, how would they be prepared for this extra responsibility? It would cost time and money to train staff across the country and it is unknown how long it would take before they would be ready to report knife crime appropriately through schools and hospitals.
Whilst new ideas to tackle knife crime are a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to address the problem. As the CEO of JAN Trust, Sajda Mughal, has emphasised; support and resources to community services and youth projects is essential to fighting knife crime. It is not enough to expect large institutions like school networks and hospital trusts to spot every problem. Unless youth workers and community leaders can engage with the local community to understand what is happening and why, the problem will continue to grow as catch-all solutions attempt to fix knife crime across vastly different areas and communities in the UK. This is why JAN Trust created Against Knife Crime, which is run with BAME women and mothers to raise awareness of the dangers young people in Haringey and surrounding boroughs in London face in relation to knife crime. By engaging with local women and giving sensitive advice to impacted families, JAN Trust has made huge progress educating mothers and their wider communities on the violence and its outcomes. Such programmes across the UK could have a significant impact on the rate of knife crime and make clear what plans need to be put in place for long term success and safety.
To find out more about our fight against knife crime click here.