Patrick Maxwell discusses Britain’s knife crime crisis and explores the factors driving it.
Knife crime in Britain is the most overlooked crisis we face. The unwelcome truth is that while politicians bicker over the details of customs boundaries, hundreds of young, disadvantaged souls are being murdered on the streets of London. Knife crime touches upon all of the policy areas most voter-hungry politicians are scared to face up to, including absence of social integration, need for proper social cohesion and an overhaul of the education system. These things are vital, not because they give MPs more political points, but because they save lives.
The numbers are startling. Since 2014, when the (albeit understandable) coalition cuts in police funding started to hit, recorded knife crime has risen by fourteen-thousand. These figures are reinforced by a new survey showing that 90 per cent of police officers feel that they are ‘understaffed’ and therefore feel more vulnerable when working. There is much truth to the statement that resources need to be spent more wisely, but ultimately numbers on the street have a big impact on ensuring the day-to-say security of some of London’s most dangerous districts. Unfortunately, the current political class are using those at risk to knife crime as bargaining chips to boost their own political ends.
As a teenager myself, the almost daily stories of people my age being slaughtered in the open street are harrowing. The cliché that ‘it could have been me’ is still both poignant and frightening. There is then the short wait before the inevitable and painful revelation that the young victim was himself a gang member, caught out by those he meddled with. The individualism and independence that teenagers crave gives them new freedom. They are given very little guidance about what to do with it.
Schools have a huge role to play in helping to address the problem. There has been a tide of opinion calling for a reduction in the length of the school day, arguing that teenagers are exhausted. But taking away precious school time and giving susceptible teenagers more time to rove the streets is a dangerous tactic that will only increase the woes of the police and the pupils themselves. Involving potential victims of gang culture in intellectually stimulating activities is one of the best ways to ensure they stay away from the culture of violence, giving them enriching activities that will aid their academic progress and keep them of the street.
This means schools shouldn’t be hemorrhaging students at the stunning rate they currently are. In the world of school league tables, where pupils are ejected if found to be potentially damaging to a school’s reputation. This is an extremely dangerous tactic. By excluding challenged students, schools are giving them excuses to become polarised and unenthusiastic about their education. Getting poor school results is one of the driving reasons for young people to commit crime, and egotistic headteachers expelling struggling pupils creates a vicious cycle. Politicians have always been afraid of involving themselves with school affairs, and their reluctance to face the problems here have led to the desperate situation the police now find themselves involved in.
Young people are also heavily influenced by those who surround them. The lack of a secure figure in any family can lead to tension, and the problem can lead to family insecurity and rifts, often leading to domestic violence. Once again, a lack of clear policy and real investment from both central and local authorities has failed local communities. The problem also manifests itself in the lack of youth centres in urban areas, giving young people fewer places to go to deal with extra school, socialising with people similar to them, and, most importantly, keeping them out of the gangs so many youths fall victim to. Although there is no definite link between the cuts over the few years and the rise in knife crime, it is certainly no complete coincidence. The annual spending on youth services fell by £200 million in three years into 2017/18. If Theresa May is to really live up to her ‘burning injustices’ agenda, she will need to urgently redress the deep injustice felt by those rejected by their local authorities.
While there is the obvious case that you cannot have secure policing without sufficient investment, there is evidently a case to be made for saying that some of the real problems lie in the communities themselves. The real problems facing the areas deeply affected by the frightening statistics of knife crime are not the ones most politicians will want to involve themselves in. Virtuous soundbites are meaningless in an issue such as this, where actions definitely do speak louder than words.