“A joined up approach would enable society to address the root cause of the violence“
Knife crime in the UK is at an all-time high. JAN Trust has spoken in the inewspaper about what needs to be done to tackle knife crime, including more investment in youth clubs.
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New statistics have confirmed the shocking rise in knife crime in England and Wales and revealed the number of incidents hit a record high last year.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday showed the number of police-recorded offences involving a knife or “sharp instrument” rose to 44,771 in the year ending September 2019 – seven per cent higher than the previous year.
It’s the latest evidence of the violence problem that has been plaguing the UK for the last few years and dominating news headlines with stories of multiple or group stabbings.
The figures backed up data released by the Ministry of Justice earlier in the week which showed the number of knife crimes resulting in a conviction or caution was the highest in a decade.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson now faces the challenge of delivering on his election promise of cracking down on violent crime and attempting to patch up the reputation of his party – once hailed as the party of law and order.
He has begun by setting up a special Government committee to focus on tackling violence and “county lines” gangs as part of a drive to look at the “complex causes of crime”.
According to The Times the cross-cabinet committee will be made up of ministers from various departments, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox and Chancellor Sajid Javid.
There is certainly an argument for a cross-governmental response to knife crime that would include the involvement of education and health departments as well as focusing on policing and enforcement.
But it remains to be seen what the committee will actually focus the government’s attention, and resources, on. i has spoken to the heads of three knife crime charities which work at both a community and national level to support those impacted by violence.
They explained what Mr Johnson’s top priorities should be:
Teach knife crime in schools
Lives Not Knives is a charity founded in 2007 by teenager Eliza Rebeiro, then aged just 14, as a youth-led campaign for young people to teach them about the dangers of knife crime. As it has evolved over the past 13 years its focus has changed to supporting young people – under 24 – into schools, employment and training.
It campaigns for policy changes around education to try and spokesman Tom Hodge said Mr Johnson needs to set his sights on “preventative work with vulnerable young people at an early stage in their development” – specifically in classrooms.
He said ministers should be looking to incorporate detailed information on youth and knife crime into the curriculum to ensure that it is mandatory education for all students.
This should be standard practice, Mr Hodge said, “so that more young people are well informed about the consequences of using a knife on themselves and society”.
Reduce school exclusions
There was a huge increase in school exclusions between 2013 to 2017 – rising by 70 per cent – and, although this figure has levelled out in the last few years, a report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime in 2019 highlighted the “alarming” rise in pupils left with nowhere to go after being barred from the classroom.
Patrick Green, CEO of The Ben Kinsella Trust – a charity set up in memory of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella who was stabbed to death in 2008 – said this should be one of the Prime Minister’s top priorities when dealing with knife crime.
“Often these children who have been kicked out of school have literally nowhere to go,” he said. “They are easy pickings for criminal gangs looking to exploit vulnerable children.
“The PM needs to change schools focus from exclusion to inclusion. This will require more support for schools so they can better identify unmet learning needs, provide better mental health support and help schools understand how trauma can affect a young person and their development. By keeping children in school, we keep them safe.”
More options for young people
JAN Trust founder Rafaat Mughal formed her charity in the 1989 to support marginalised women in north east London who were struggling to guide and provide for their families. Now one of the charity’s key projects centres around BAME women and mothers campaigning to prevent gun, knife and gang crime.
Sajda Mughal, CEO of the charity, said the community focus of her work highlights the need for the Government to invest more in youth clubs and local services that have been shutting down in their droves.
“The government must offer alternatives and opportunity to young people and as such there should exist sufficient funding to ensure the reopening of numerous youth clubs that have had to close their doors,” she said.
She added that as well as supporting young people through education and training, it was key to ensure “young people are not left feeling that there is no viable alternative which pushes them into having few choices”.
Mr Hodge, from Lives Not Knives, agreed there needs to be more emphasis on “socioeconomic circumstances” leading to young people getting involved in youth and knife crime.
The Government needs to “invest in youth clubs, new facilities, resources and programmes to engage and empower young people and present them with genuine and clear pathways to a brighter future so that they choose to not pick up a knife,” he said.
The Ben Kinsella Trust’s Mr Green said the importance of diverting young people to fun and positive activities has been “undervalued” by society and politicians.
“It provides not only the activities that young people need, it provides the safe spaces, the mentoring, positive role models, the friendships that help you learn from others, build your selfconfidence and grow as a person,” he said.
Involve the communities it impacts
Under current plans the committee leading the knife crime initiative will be led by ministers and Government staff, but Mr Hodge said the voices of those with direct experiences of violent and gang crime should be included.
“The committee should seek to utilise the experiences of youth workers and others who have experienced the effects of knife crime either directly or indirectly and can relate to those most vulnerable in our society,” he said.
“This can either be through incorporating them into meetings or by supporting or funding programs that encourage people with this background to work alongside young people.”
Ms Mughal, of JAN Trust, said that the recent statics proved that it the change needed has to be “radical” and, crucial to this, is ending the common perception that there is a single cause.
“To begin to tackle the issue of knife crime we must start to view its causes as multifaceted, meaning as a result, that there is not a singular solution and as is often the case in such circumstances, there exists a desperate need for holistic approach to this challenge,” she said.
The approach to tackling this “must also be joined up across numerous services such as education, social service, communities and health care,” she added. “This joined up approach would enable society to address the root cause of the violence that has seen the growth in knife crime”.
She also added that it was “imperative” that the Government commits to providing enough funding for all of these services, not just policing.
This sentiment was echoed by Mr Green. “It is now widely acknowledged that you simply can’t arrest your way out of this problem,” he said. “The Prime Minister needs to ensure that prevention and early intervention remain the cornerstone for his strategy to end knife crime.”
He said that there needs to be more focus on the “underlying causes” such as domestic violence, inequality, poverty and the lack of opportunity.
TThe PM needs to ensure that the policies and spending of these departments are aligned for the common purpose of ending knife crime.”
Mr Green did, however, acknowledge that there needs to be reform in policing across the country that “must go beyond a simple head count of 20,000 extra officers”.
“When young people carry knives they largely do so for protection. They carry a knife because they don’t believe that there is anyone out there who can protect them or keep them safe,” he said. “Policing needs to return to its community values. The police need to build trust with our marginalised groups and do more to make communities and young people feel safe again.”
He used examples such as schools officers and police cadets as positive models who can engage with young people and win their respect which helps them to then “divert them into positive activities”.
This was supported by Mr Hodge who called for the Government to “reflect” on police training and the” “way that police conduct ‘stop and search’ in the community”.
He said the Government needs to “ensure measures are in place so that it avoids perpetuating stereotypes and does not alienate members of society”.